Why the Italians Are Not Kicking Out Berlusconi

Silvio BerlusconiThe sneer of the winnerImage by rogimmi via Flickr
How come the Italians are not getting rid of Berlusconi? 

His popularity has sunk to the lowest levels ever, yet he is still up there, strutting about, the bunga bunga party boy! An "international laughing stock", as Ms. Marcegaglia famously called him. Italians are a serious people, how can they stand him?

The short answer is, the average citizen can't stand him but he's paid off enough politicians to stay in. 

The long answer? It's a little more complicated. Italian democracy is dysfunctional. And what has made it unworkable is the new election reform law that did away with the concept of  proportional votes and instituted a winner-takes-all system. The idea was to move Italy towards an American-style two-party system.

What happened instead was that a large number of Italian voters suddenly found themselves kicked out of the system - without anyone representing them in Parliament.

And Parliament? That's where the rub is. Deputies WILL NOT VOTE AGAINST BERLUSCONI because if they do, they lose all their benefits - golden salaries and pension and all the little perks like free cell phones and free train trips and official car etc etc. 

Why? Because pensions et al. are payable to them ONLY if they stay through the whole legislature, i.e. the whole 5 years until the natural end of Berlusconi's government.

Therefore, they'll never vote him out!

Simple. Meanwhile Berlusconi keeps looking after his own interests and waging all his battles against the Italian magistrates who are after him, skirting and avoiding indictments in all sorts of cases, from tax fraud to paying for his Bunga Bunga parties.

The only advantage in all this? None perhaps except that this time Berlusconi might well manage to get through Italian Parliament (and his reluctant ally Bossi, the leader of the Northern league) the major reforms called on by EU partners to save the Euro. 

Like raising the pensionable age to the EU level of 67 years, equal for men and women (not the case in Italy yet, that has the most generous pension system bar none - except for Greece's of course).  A hugely unpopular measure here in Italy where everyone loves their little pensions, including "baby pensions" you can get after working just five years...

So will Berluconi's weakness coupled with Italian's dysfunctional system save the day, allowing for passage of the necessary reforms through Parliament before the next European council meeting (scheduled for Wednesday 26 October)?

My guess is that it will work out. Deputies will prefer to save their skin (and benefits) rather than defend the (indefensible) Italian pension system. But then, I'm an eternal optimist!

Q4U: Do you agree that the main reason Berlusconi is still in power can be ascribed to deputies' desire to save their benefits? Any other reasons in your opinion? What are the chances that Italian democracy will be/can be reformed and made functional?

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