Italy Is Developing a Two-Party System

With Italy's election on April 13 and 14, polling shows Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right ahead.

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Italy votes on April 13 and 14. Polling has shown Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition Popolo della Libertà ahead of former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni's center-left Partito Democratico, as this article from today's Corriere della Sera suggests. But Italian law bans publication of polls within 15 days of the election, and I can't find any in today's Italian newspapers. But last week, a compilation of polls in Corriere showed the center-right leading the center-left by an average of 44 percent to 37 percent. Polling (.pdf) before the 2006 election showed the center-left ahead, but it actually won only by an exceedingly narrow margin. The center-left government of Romano Prodi lost its majority in the Senate, and Prodi is retiring from politics.

Many people like to make fun of Italy's multiparty politics; whenever I mention the Italian elections to non-Italians, they immediately bring up the porn star who was elected to the Chamber of Deputies several elections ago. But, in fact, Italy is developing a two-party system, with the center-right tending to lead. Its old multiparty politics came to an end in the early 1990s, when Italians had lost faith in Catholicism (the old Christian Democrats were very much a Catholic party) and communism (the old Communist party changed its name). In each election since, there have been center-right and center-left coalitions, each putting up only one candidate in single-member districts. (Here are the election results for 1994 to 2001;

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  • Berlusconi, as you might expect, is hated by Italy's mostly left-wing intellectuals and writers; he was a staunch supporter of military action in Iraq and started taking English lessons so he could speak directly with George W. Bush and Tony Blair. I understand there is talk in Italy that after the election, Berlusconi and Veltroni will get together to pass changes making the electoral system institutionally more nurturing of a two-party system. By the way, Veltroni is the first member of a formerly totalitarian party to head a major coalition in an election; his fellow former Communist Massimo d'Alema did become prime minister, but well after the election of 1996 in which Prodi, a former Christian Democrat, was the leader of the center-left. That may open the way for Gianfranco Fini, who was part of the former fascist party, to lead the center-right in some election in the future.