Fear of elections forces the government to stay together

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Fear of elections forces the government to stay together

01 Ottobre 2007

minister Romano Prodi announced on friday night that the various parties of his
governing coalition had found a compromise to pass a new budget plan. Tensions
had been growing in the government during the last couple of days as the
radical left voiced demands for more spending on welfare and the environment by
threatening to abandon the coalition. The compromise that has now emerged
contains several concessions to the far left, signals a reluctance to cut
public spending and is clearly designed to find the lowest common denominator
in order to keep the coalition together.

Letta, undersecretary at Prodi’s office, has said that the budget plan contains
“a hundred pieces of good news” as it benefits the poor, the business
community, research, innovation, infrastructure and development. But an
announcement of this kind always raises the suspicion that a government is
unable to agree on any priorities and just tries to keep every department quiet
for as long as the money lasts. Therefore, the much-trumpeted tax cuts for
business are very modest and the extra resources spent on research and
innovation extremely small.

While the
leader of the biggest communist party (PRC), Franco Giordano, seemed pleased
with the compromise acknowledging that Prodi had
shifted away from earlier proposals, former prime minister Lamberto Dini, a
more centrist voice of the center-left, expressed frustration. The harshest
critic of the compromise is defence minister Arturo Parisi whose budget will be
reduced by no less than 25 per cent. He declared to be shocked by the dramatic
cut in military expenditure and signalled concern over Italy’s ability to
maintain its international commitments which include peace-keeping missions in
Afghanistan and Lebanon. Parisi also made clear that these cuts would affect
the safety of Italian soldiers in conflict situations. The cuts mark a victory
for the radical left which opposes the mission in Afghanistan and has always
campaigned to direct resources away from military affairs. The internal tension
within the government on this issue was displayed again on friday as Franco
Monaco from the centrist Margherita accused the far left of demagoguery for
calling everyone a warmonger who tries to explain the necessity of properly
financing Italy’s army.

As these
%0Aserious disagreements continue to agonise the governing coalition, it is
natural to ask which factors can keep the government together at all. The
answer is given by current opinion polls indicating an all-time low in support
for the government since it was elected in April 2006. If elections were held
at this point, the government would only receive 42 per cent of the vote as
opposed to 56 per cent for the center-right. All parties within the coalition
are therefore aware that the disintegration of the government would almost
certainly result in a victory for the opposition. A third option which is
sometimes discussed would be the formation of government under a new prime
minister without going to the ballot box. However, this option is unlikely as
senior exponents of the government such as foreign minister Massimo D’Alema
have already announced that in case of a collapse of the current majority the
only possible option is to hold new elections. The newspaper Corriere della
speculates that such declarations are meant to discipline the
multi-party coalition not to abandon the government. The ritual threats and
compromises may therefore keep the government alive once more but its scope for
conducting coherent policies remains very narrow.