Do Italians really like Berlusconi? Are they going to elect him again?

A view of Italy's capital, Rome

A view of Italy’s capital, Rome

Since more than ten years the world wonders how Italians could vote — often by a landslide — for an unreliable, tried for multiple crimes, embarrassing character like Mr. Berlusconi.

People and analysts outside of Italy also cannot understand why Italians are going to vote for him again in the next elections due to be held on February, 2013.

Recently anchor Jon Stewart said “Italy what are you doing? Berlusconi even doesn’t want this! [watch the video].

Do most Italians really want Mr. Berlusconi back and are they going to enthusiastically vote for him again?

There is a lot of misconception and simplification around about Italy and Mr. Berlusconi. Let’s check some facts.

Berlusconi never got more than 29% of total votes.

It happened in 2001. His party actually got 37% in 2008’s elections, but in that case it was actually a coalition. A few months before the elections, Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, merged with the other major right-wing party, Alleanza Nazionale. Therefore that 37% was a sum of the votes for two parties.

There isn’t anything like a people’s call in order to get Berlusconi back into politics.

He simply never left. He just sat apart during last year, while Mario Monti – his successor – was in charge. He also officially handed over leadership of his party to a low-profile politician. Recently Berlusconi’s party considered announcing primaries in order to choose a candidate for next elections.

In December, just after being convicted for tax fraud, Mr. Berlusconi reaffirmed his leadership over the party and self-candidate himself for the post of prime minister. No primaries were needed any more. When he announced his candidacy, one month ago, about 11% of Italians stated they would have voted for him. Currently that figure has risen to 15%.

 

We’ve seen that only a minority of Italians vote for Mr. Berlusconi. That being said, how could he rule Italy for over eight years over the last decade? In my opinion, for three main reasons:

Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi

A two-coalitions system. This is the same reason why almost half of the Americans don’t like their own president and yet he is in charge: a two-party system. In the U.S. there are two major parties, while in Italy there were actually two major coalitions (left and right). That’s why Berlusconi’s less than 30% votes, when combined with the ones from the other parties in the same coalition added up to an overall of around 50%. In a two-coalition system the winning coalition, even winning for one single vote, will rule. And its candidate with it.

Pushovers in place of competitors. The other coalition always showed weak politics, weak candidates, weak opposition. Besides their internal contentiousness led to an average duration of less than two years for their governments. Berlusconi and his coalition, on the other hand, have always been long-lasting once in charge.

Controlling the media. In Italy there are six main TV channels. Three of them actually belong to Mr. Berlusconi. The other three are public-owned state TV, and are well known to be controlled by the government. It is very rare to watch investigative reports on state TV that the contemporary government would not like, and it has been like that since the dawn of Italian state-TV in the 1950s. Therefore, when in charge Berlusconi controlled, directly or indirectly, more than 90% of the information handed over to Italian TV audience. That would give an unbeatable advantage to any candidate anywhere, and even a bigger one to a man who has the attitude and the abilities of a snake-oil salesman.

Will Berlusconi collect once again a lot of votes in the next elections?

Mr. Monti’s austerity policy of the last 13 months got Italian unemployment rate and taxes to skyrocket. It is not hard to imagine that a relevant amount of right-wing voters who one year ago were disappointed in Berlusconi will now “come back home” and vote for him again.

Besides, his everywhere presence on TV channels during the last weeks led to an increase of vote expectations for him and contemporarily to a decrease for all the other political entities.


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