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Analysis: Bombast and comedy in Italy's political opera

  • Story Highlights
  • Italian president dissolves parliament, clearing the way for early elections
  • Latest political crisis will likely bring Silvio Berlusconi back to power
  • Media mogul Berlusconi lost 2006 elections by handful of votes
  • Many observers had predicted Romani Prodi would not last long
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By CNN's Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- I know, news of yet another Italian political crisis is not very exciting, certainly not easy to explain and in the end chances are that the next prime minister will keep his job for a year or two, and then the circus will start again.

But there are a few reasons why, even if you don't care, you should keep an eye on what is going on here in Italy now that the president has dissolved parliament and called for new elections in April.

First, in case you missed it, this crisis will likely bring Silvio Berlusconi back to power. That alone, if you like entertainment, is one good reason to stay tuned. Second, his challenger is someone you probably don't know but you will learn to like. And third, Italian politics is like opera: Bombastic, dramatic and amusing.

Let us start with Berlusconi's comeback: In fact the media mogul has never gone away. He lost the 2006 elections by a handful of votes (26,000) and most observers predicted Romani Prodi would not last long.

The country was split in half then and Prodi made the mistake not to share power with him or other opposition politicians (a sort of German style grand coalition if you will).

The country today remains split, except that Berlusconi now enjoys more support than before since Prodi's outgoing government is hugely unpopular. It achieved modest progress, but in 20 months managed to raise taxes, and that never goes down well with voters. Hence, Berlusconi is poised to win the vote.

His challenger is Walter Veltroni, the current mayor or Rome. By Italian standards, at 52, he is a young politician. Not new on the political scene (he was Prodi's deputy in 1996-98) but he has just formed a new political party and has become a household name.

Veltroni is a movie buff who created the Rome Film Festival, wrote a novel and is just as media savvy as Berlusconi. Veltroni and Berlusconi share the ability to speak directly to the people, avoiding complicated political lingo that often bores voters and supporters. He will put up a formidable challenge against Berlusconi, but still he is unlikely to win.

Why? Well, here comes the third reason why you should care and pay attention to what is going on here, but probably won't because you don't like opera.

One of the reasons of political instability is the current electoral law, which is highly proportional and allows small parties with minimal representation to become king makers in any coalition government. Prodi needed nine political parties to muster enough support to run a government. They often squabbled, bickered and struggled to remain united.

Veltroni has promised voters he will not seek a similar coalition with small parties (like Communists and Greens for example) and therefore he will run alone. However Berlusconi will lead a center-right coalition, so even if Veltroni receives more votes than Berlusconi (difficult, but certainly a possibility) he will still have less votes than his opponent, who is running together with allies of his former government.

Thanks to the current law, Berlusconi would become prime minister thanks to a complicated vote tally that awards parliament's seats to the winning coalition.

You still don't like opera? Here is an aria from the current crisis you probably missed.

Two weeks ago Prodi was forced to resign after his justice minister, Clemente Mastella, withdrew his support following the arrest of his wife on corruption charges. Mastella himself was put under investigation.

It turned out the magistrate who ordered the arrest did not have the authority to do so, and she was released a few days ago (though she remains under investigation). In other words this latest crisis began with the actions of a magistrate who simply overstepped his authority.

But wait, there is more.

You think Berlusconi will have an easier task in keeping his coalition together? Just before Christmas one of Berlusconi's main political allies, Gianfranco Fini who leads the National Alliance, declared that he had broken forever with Berlusconi, after one of his television channels broadcast an embarrassing video of Fini's new girlfriend with a former lover.

The matter was so serious that Berlusconi announced the creation of a new party called "People of Liberty". Needless to say today this party will not run in upcoming elections and Fini together with other political allies have fallen into line. They will all run together with Berlusconi under the old "House of Freedoms" coalition.

You still don't like this political drama unfolding day after day, week after week, every night on television news? Here is a snapshot of what the upcoming political campaign could look like.

When Prodi lost the confidence vote last week, lawmakers in the ornate chambers of the Italian Senate (the second highest authority in the country) were seen yelling at each other words such as "traitor!" and "piece of s---!"

Meanwhile Berlusconi's allies uncorked bottles of sparking wine on the Senate floor as the speaker implored order screaming: "This is not a tavern here!"


Polls may suggest that Berlusconi will likely win this election, but they also indicate that Italians are fed up with politics, politicians and their perceived inability to care about the country's needs.

Lets hope this election will be less about drama an more about what the people need, because in the end it is the credibility of a country that is at stake, not just the seriousness of its leaders. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Romano ProdiGiorgio NapolitanoItalyPolitics

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