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You are here: Home > Diritto di Voto / EU, Italy, Turin > Rethinking the social contract in #COVID19 and #NextGenerationEU times - elections and choices

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Published on 2021-11-20 13:35:00 | words: 2384

Now, this post is going to be as short as possible, as it is mainly to share few pointers- if you want depth, you can read some previous articles on this website.

The inspiration for this post was a convergence of elements over the last couple of weeks.

As I wrote in the past, once in a while I re-read the Italian Constitution.

First time I read it? As a kid- and not just because we had that on our school schedule.

I remember that the first time I ended up comparing with the Constitution of other countries was as an early teenager, through a book... comparing what few countries.

Constitutions considered in, out, and part of the agreement between citizens and the contextualization within history and society- the when and where, not just the what.

As our classroom discussions were only around bits of the Italian Constitution, as if it had been cast in stone since forever, and were unique, a kind of manifest destiny, and not the result of a political process in a country that both since the inception the Rome and thereafter has been undeniably tribal and localistic (the latter in Italian is called 'campanilismo', association with the belltower- which, in many locations, we had a plenty thereof, as even in our Roman Catholic-only past, going to a church and not another was a sign of 'belonging').

Few days ago, the Italian President made a remark in a speech, referring to an old concept that I heard since I was a kid, long before a series of changes to the Italian Constitution (admittedly, accelerating over the latest three decades, since we shifted from a country where, courtesy of Cold War, no government could be there without the DC, Christian Democratic Party.

What happened thereafter? We entered a condition where it seems that every one-two elections there is a new political party with a significant role in defining the roadmap of the incoming government.

About the Constitution as an unfulfilled roadmap: it is a concept that still holds true- since the late 1940s, it is still to be fully applied.

So, a couple of night ago I took a pause from my language learning refresh, went to the website of the Italian Senate, and downloaded the latest version of the Italian Constitution.

Latest edition, as it was issued in November 2021, after yet another tweak to the Constitution.

Then, of course, went through it- it is less than 100 pages with plenty of space, so you can easily read it in an after dinner session.

Frankly, the changes since the start of the Second Republic started (1990s) focused too much on changing the balance of powers between the different levels of national and local institutions, and too little on citizens.

A bartering between insiders sold as a political pipedream to the masses, but then converted into the usual spontaneous generation of sinecure, political-bureacratic careerism, and tribe-based appointments.

So much for the heralded 'federalism Italian style': replicating at the regional, and then Metropolitan area level, the pay and allocation structure of the central authorities is a solution to our 'campanilismo' and tribal attitudes?

I doubt- but shared already few books worth scribblings about that.

More recent changes further increased the focus on power shuffling, as if playing musical chair were to be the best way to increase cohesion between different areas, and inclusion of citizens into decision making.

The forthcoming election of the new President will be carried out by a Parliament that recent electoral rounds have shown not to represent anymore the current will of the country.

Anyway, this applies to any democracy in times of crisis, as the will of the electorate evolves, also within a single term (in Italy, 5 years, albeit more than once we had earlier elections).

And, anyway, the Italian Constitution expressly states that those elected do not have constraints: as shown by the continuous changes of political parties, most of the elected Members of Parliament are quite aware that their duty is to the Nation, not to a political party, to be optimist; to be pessimist, and actually was just said by some few terms ago, some 'team switches' have nothing to do with political choices, and plenty to do with 'tenure' opportunities.

So, I disagree with those that try to coherce more party discipline using as a point the dual "reduced representation of the will of the People", i.e. due the recent results, and the forthcoming reduction in membership of the Parliament (implying: many of the current backbenchers will not have a seat to run for, and some are actually trying to shift to local 'tenure', understanding their reduced appeal for one of the fewer national seats).

Weak leaders routinely since at least three decades ago invoke tweaking with the Constitution to create a majority where just a plurality exist, and, moreover, to make themselves a continuous incumbent, creating artificial barriers to entry for new political entities, through electoral and funding mechanisms and other restrictions tailored for the incumbents.

The paradox of the Second Republic was that first the Northern League (as it was called back then), thereafter other entities, and finally the current crop of "new" or reborn political parties continously seek shortcuts to power retention that exclude actually winning consensus.

In a tribal country such as the one I think Italy still is, beside being bipartisan I am also strongly in favor of proportional representation (with an entry threshold, say, 5%).

I am also skeptical about counting votes by coalition, as it is a routine that, both when the coalition wins or loses, once the elections are done, the Italian saying 'passata la festa, gabbato lo santo' applies: i.e. the coalition is shown to be built around the electoral law, not a shared political and policy approach.

Political and policy- as in Italy we routinely elect those who claim that they will, as if by magic, save us from... ourselves.

Therefore, policy, as implementation of political choices, is often lacking from our political landscape.

But those proposing shortcuts are quite funny, when forget times when they were actually against the same shortcuts that currently they advocate.

Why? Well... before, they were complaining about others looking for those shortcuts, but eventually they seem to consider that they could benefit from those same shortcuts.

It is almost a routine, a routine that tells a lot about the state of society cohesion in a country that still is a geographic definition, despite all the public show of national unity and solidarity once in a while, notably in sport.

I am still waiting for those who said 'no' to former President of the Council of Ministers Renzi referendum on structural changes, claiming that stopping those reforms would be the only hope to do real reforms.

Quite interesting to see how some of those that criticized that referendum (I was between those saying 'yes, but...'- i.e. better than stasis, but get ready to fix it), claiming that was introducing almost a dictatorship (that Mr. Renzi turned into a kind of popularity context and plebiscite did not help), as it contained elements that frankly reminded the old 'Legge Acerbo' of Mussolini times (true- and I wrote about that back then)...

...now are de facto proposing even stronger 'political and govenment stability' measures.

As some English colleagues (and somebody long before them, from their own country) said: Italians play football (soccer, for my American friends) as if it were a war, and fight wars as if it were football.

Then usually added that we Italian do not end a war on the same side we started it.

Which actually is not criticism of our ability to differentiate football from war, or inability to deal with crises (wars included) when needed.

It is more an assessment of our political leadership- since the country was united in 1861.

COVID19 showed how much the tinkering with our Constitution created an unsteady state (or even an unsteady State): the fuzziness of many changes were left at least in part on purpose to give something to negotiate on when needed, but implied that generally decision making requires a continuous dance between all the parties involved, until there is a convergence of interests.

A former prime minister long ago talked about "convergenze parallele"- as a friend said once, even two parallel lines eventually converge.

But this takes time, which is exactly what a pandemic does not allow.

So, different regional governments behaved in different ways at different times during the current crisis, and we took many shortcuts- often waiting until there was a crisis to solve, a crisis that could have been softened (or even avoided) if simply somebody had had the political will to manage known risks, instead of spinning them around, and then clamoring 'we do this following the advice of scientists', as it has been routine in the past to say 'we are doing this as it is requested by Brussels'.

As I wrote in the past, in the latter cases, often it was a case of weak politicians providing information and proposals to Brussels disguised as data or reports, so that the same material could become prescriptions based on data: or, if you cannot foster the political will to sell an unpalatable choice and risk at the next elections, 'package it' and shuffle to another level, so you are just 'implementing' what you can claim to be distanced from.

And the same political parties at the national level behaved in different ways, both at the national and local level, since the crisis started officially in Italy, i.e. in March 2020, with the first lockdowns, and across the latest 19 months- politics should be about leading and consensus building, not just following 'sentiment analysis' and riding the wave of consensus.

If you want to ride consensus as if it were a wave, maybe you could have been a decent surfer, but in politics you are just a demagogue, not a leader.

Compound the pre-existing state of the Italian economy, and the massive injection of funding that is associated with the NextGenerationEU (plus its complementing measures in Italy).

What you obtain is an altered state of mind to start with (the pre-existing condition), where the crisis highlighted some weaknesses (e.g. the percentage of the Italian economy that is "unofficial"), and expanded the tension.

Then, the massive injection of funding started a feeding frenzy, as if the funding was to solve both the current and pre-existing conditions, by its mere presence, without the need for an orchestration of efforts toward a shared purpose.

Reminded a move from Federico Fellini, about an orchestra on strike.

In Italy it is the Parliament and representative of regional level who vote for the President, not citizens- hence, the issue about 'Parliament not representing citizens', due to the appalling results in recent elections of political parties that in 2018 obtained a leading share of the votes, as well as the forthcoming reduction in Membership (overall, we will move from almost 1,000 to 600 representives, 400 for the Camera dei Deputati, 0200 for the Senate).

The forthcoming presidential elections are generating plenty of creative ideas that have limited connection to political or even legal (i.e. the Constitution as it is now) realities.

But, in Italy, an indirect election, such as the one for President, is the realm of uncharted possibilities: it takes just a consensus exercises within the Parliament, maybe even a consensus that defies citizen's will expressed recently or expected in 2023.

So, the discussions about both elections (presidential and 2023) is reinvigorating another Italian tradition of the Second Republic: instant books containing what I could kindly call 'selective analysis', i.e. presenting as undeniable, full truth a selection that supports the thesis of the author, ignoring any other potential interpretation, and leading to a specific result.

Or, in transition times such as the current ones, an array of potential results- as some prefer to position themselves as potentially useful to more than one of the hopeful candidates...

... in Italy, hedging is not just for finance- also intellectuals and research centres remember routinely that belonging is worth more than being.

Therefore, due combination of the different factors within Italy, plus the continuation of the Covid19 crisis and its expected long-term impacts (including revising welfare and health system for the long run), plus the sudden appearance of resources to be allocated and spent with a speed unusual in Italy, could foster some creative solutions.

Solutions focused on 'now or never', and possibly a term limitation instead of long-term tenure.

Replacing tenure with acceptance of becoming too unpopular with many tribes by doing what is needed for long-term sustainability, and being thanked not by the present, but by the future.

Despite all the lip service paid to 'future generations' (not just the 'Friday for Future'), way too many would not take risks that could result in shortening their own political careers, and prefer another traditional Italian political game: 'cerchiobottismo', i.e. balancing all the options so that you can anyway claim some foresight later on.

Making choices, taking risks, and building consensus would be difficult in a country where a call to national unity were to result in a feeling of common purpose.

It takes even more political courage in Italy.

So, the issue is: are we going to tinker our way into a Titanic-fate, or are we going to take the current conditions as a seed to cathalyze a better future?

Stay tuned...