Unift to lead Italy
Silvio Berlusconi has failed to show that he is any more worthy of leading Italy today than he was in the past.
UNLESS a technical hitch causes a postponement, Italy will go to the polls on April 13th and 14th to elect its 62nd post-war government—and the signs are that it will be led by Silvio Berlusconi, just like the 53rd, the 59th and the 60th. By clinging to the familiar, are the Italians paradoxically hoping for change? Theirs, after all, is a country in which “everything must change so that everything can stay the same,” according to Giuseppe di Lampedusa, author of “The Leopard”, the great Sicilian novel. Perhaps they believe that by bringing Mr Berlusconi back to power they can invert this maxim and keep everything the same in order to promote reform. If so, they are likely to be disappointed.
During his most recent spell in office, between 2001 and 2006, Mr Berlusconi did achieve modest improvements to Italy's unsustainable pension system and to its inflexible labour market. Much of his energy, though, was devoted to furthering his own, or his friends', interests. Some of his efforts took the form of laws (like the country's statute of limitations) that helped him to avoid conviction, some to attacks on the judiciary, some to the introduction of a voting system partly designed to keep him in power. In this he was disappointed, but the new system did lead—as intended—to a parliament in which a plethora of parties was represented, nine of the 39 in a centre-left government with a carpaccio-thin majority. Predictably, it carried out few reforms. Predictably, too, it came to a premature end. Hence the election.
Perhaps, now that he is rid of most of his legal troubles, he can start to think more about a place in history as a great reformer and less about staying out of jail. It's possible. He is 71, and could take the view that he has nothing to lose by attacking the immobilismo of politics that lies behind the relative decline of the Italian economy (see article). But that is unlikely. He has never shown much interest in reform. He is more likely to have his eyes on a populist route to the presidency.
Besides, more is at stake in this election than the possibility of real change. For this year, as in every year in which Mr Berlusconi has been a candidate, Italians are being asked to vote for someone who is simply unfit to lead a modern democracy. That seemed likely from the very first, in 1994, when he came to office presiding over a huge business empire that included a virtual monopoly of Italy's commercial television. He merely shrugged at this, just as he shrugged when corruption came to light at his main company and his brother Paolo, to whom he had entrusted some of his affairs, was charged. The magistrates were politically motivated, he averred.
His government fell, for unrelated reasons, but just over six years later he was back. The judicial investigations into his affairs had multiplied and the conflicts of interest were still unresolved. The Economist, which had called on him to resign in 1994, declared him unfit to run Italy (see article). His response was a libel suit, which remains open. Our judgment, however, has been amply vindicated. Not only did the charges and conflicts of interest persist but so did the attacks on the judiciary. They were accompanied by changes in the law designed to ensure that no conviction would ever sully his name. In January this year, for instance, he was acquitted of false accounting in the 1980s because a law passed by his government in 2002 had decriminalised the activities he was accused of.
Two months ago the European Court of Justice ruled that Italy smothered competition in broadcasting. Private television is still dominated by Mr Berlusconi. He is still Italy's richest man, still beset by conflicts of interest, still unfit, even if he were a great reformer, to rule Italy. Italians should vote for Walter Veltroni, his opponent from the centre-left, instead.