The three main leaders of the centre-right opposition - Silvio Berlusconi (Forza Italia), Gianfranco Fini (Alleanza Nazionale) and Umberto Bossi (Lega Nord) will today talk to the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano. They will state their concerns about the political situation in the country. The meeting takes place just as the centre-left governemnt led by Romano Prodi, goes through a critical period. The parties of the ruling coalition experienced a clear defeat at the local elections a few weeks ago. Ever since these elections there have been speculations whether the government may fall apart sooner rather than later. Sensing the unease within the coalition and its lack of popularity among voters, the opposition has intensified its demands for new elections. It is easy to predict that general elections, if they were held at this point in time, would hand a comfortable majority to Mr Berlusconi and his allies. According to a recent opinion poll, the centre-right would carry a 10-12 percent advantage over the current coalition.
The meeting with the President serves to step up the pressure on the government but it is not expected that Mr Napolitano will dissolve parliament and announce new elections since there is no constitutional reason to do so. However, in the meantime the opposition may succeed in converting the widespread discontent with the government into street protests.
One of the most important recent issues damaging the credibility of the centre-left results from the involvement of some of its most senior figures in a banking scandal. Two years ago, Unipol, a cooperative politically close to the left, launched a takeover bid for BNL, a major Italian bank. It has emerged that thoughout the affair, leading politicians from the biggest centre-left party, Democratici di Sinistra (Ds), were actively trying to promote the takeover behind the scenes. Wiretappings prove that Piero Fassino, national secretary of the Ds, exclaimed “We have a bank” while talking on the phone. More recently, it was shown that Massimo D’Alema, current foreign minister, told the chief executive of Unipol to “give us a dream”. As the pressure mounted on D’Alema, he said in an interview that it is not unusual for a party to have an interest in banking matters, but the whole affair leaves a bad taste and has provided ammunition for the opposition. The centre-right warns that that the Unipol/BNL scandal may discredit the political scene in general and helps to promote an anti-political attitude that is already on the march in Italy.
One of the leaders of the centre-right, Ferdinando Casini (Udc), has distanced himself from the demands for new elections. Instead, he prefers a government of national responsibility including centre-right and centre-left forces. However, his idea has not only been rejected by the other centre-right parties but also by the Ds. Massimo D’Alema said that in the case of a breakdown of the current coalition, the only viable option is to go back to the ballot box.