31 January, 2013

The race to be second

The Italian elections are warming up, with just over three weeks to go. The electoral law says that from two weeks before it is illegal to publish an opinion poll.

If three weeks ago it looked clear cut, now, whilst the Left's Bersani remains the favourite, an outright victory looks far from certain. There are jokers in the pack, and it is hard to predict the outcome. In many ways it is a race to be second.

The first joker is of course Silvio Berlusconi. Eyebrows were raised when he agreed to be interviewed on La7, an independent channel connected neither with him nor with the State; the interview would be conducted by a man Silvio had fired, and who clearly bore a grudge against him. It was a barnstorming performance by Berlusconi, culminating in him hitting the interviewer over the head with a piece of cardboard. It was said to be worth 2% to the PdL. Today the Corriere della Sera reports that Berlusconi's hiring of Mario Balotelli for his AC Milan side could be worth another two points; this is, after all, Italy.

The second joker is Monti, who seems now to see himself as a politician. He is unhesitatingly rude to the other contestants and plots little alliances, making public advances to one party or another. He is stuck on around 15% and can hope at best to be finance minister in a weakened Bersani coalition. Bersani's supporters, who are against the austerity programme, will not want this.

The next joker is Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), the left-controlled bank which appears to have mixed an extraordinary level of incompetence with illegal subterfuge. This is heavily damaging for Bersani, whose support has come off a couple of percent since the scandal broke.

Beppe Grillo, who is having a field day on the MPS scandal, remains around 15-18%.

The most likely outcome is that Bersani's PD get a majority in the House of Deputies but fail to do so in the Senate. Unlike in Britain, the two houses are equally important. Either Monti or Berlusconi could hold the balance of power.

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