Assessing Berlusconi and VideoPolitics

In the New York Review of Books, a recap of the end of the clown show that was the reign of Silvio Berlusconi (or at least this episode of it).

Traditionally on losing an election, a politician calls to congratulate the winner and urges voters to put their differences aside and come together for the good of the country. But Silvio Berlusconi is anything but a traditional politician. Instead, after his narrow defeat by the center-left candidate, Romano Prodi, Berlusconi made charges of fraud (even though his own government had overseen the voting), demanded a recount (which quickly confirmed the original result), and demanded that he be included in any new government in order to avoid “civil war.”

Prodi will probably have enough seats to put together a parliamentary majority. But a weak government, presiding over a sharply divided country, will likely make it possible for Berlusconi to block legislation. Or Prodi’s government could be short-lived, and there could be new elections in the not-too-distant future.

A close outcome was not only predictable but actually planned by Berlusconi during his government’s twilight as a way of lessening the impact of possible defeat. A few months before the election, Berlusconi studied polls that showed the center-left winning a substantial majority in parliament with the country’s winner-take-all electoral system. He decided to change the election system and return to the proportional representation that the Italian electorate had strongly rejected in a popular referendum in 1993. The old proportional system was thought to have encouraged a plethora of small parties, unstable government majorities, short-lived revolving-door governments, and ceaseless horse-trading among coalition partners, all of which fostered corruption and lack of clear policies in the post– World War II period.