Skip to main content

Italy tumbles into 'chaotic uncertainty'

By Barbie Latza Nadeau, Special to CNN
updated 6:00 AM EST, Tue February 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Italy headed for a new phase of chaotic uncertainty, writes Barbie Nadeau
  • Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of center-left, squandered weeks of leading in polls
  • Electoral outcome is cloudy, and even chaotic, and will most likely lead to another election

Editor's note: Barbie Latza Nadeau is Rome bureau chief for Newsweek Daily Beast and is a frequent contributor to CNN. She has lived in and reported from Italy for Newsweek since 1997.

(CNN) -- The only thing certain about the results of the Italian elections held February 24 and 25 is that the country is headed for a new phase of utter and chaotic uncertainty.

While there may be clear winners in terms of ballot counts, there is no clear majority in the powerful senate, which means that no one has a clear enough mandate to actually govern the country. In short, Italy is right back where it was in November 2011 when Silvio Berlusconi resigned amid a flurry of sex and financial corruption scandals. But is that back to square one? That would be an optimistic outcome. In many ways, things are far worse.

Italy has actually used up many of its final chances in this electoral season. Not only has the country chosen not to embrace continuing austerity under technocratic leader Mario Monti, which is necessary by any calculation to actually start moving Italy out of the recession.

Barbie Latza Nadeau is Rome bureau chief for Newsweek Daily Beast.
Barbie Latza Nadeau is Rome bureau chief for Newsweek Daily Beast.

It has also opted to give a great deal of parliamentary power to the anti-establishment Five Star protest movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo who, aside from not actually being a candidate, vows to bring a referendum on Italy's continuing involvement in the eurozone currency among other things. He now stands to have the largest party in the lower house. None of his candidates have any parliamentary experience, which is likely why he won so much support.

"We'll see you in parliament," Grillo tweeted as the final results clearly proved that he had indeed tapped into the country's discontent.

But perhaps the most astonishing feat of these elections is that Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the center-left Partito Democratico, somehow squandered weeks of a well-established lead in the polls. And, to none other than comeback king Silvio Berlusconi, who managed to beat all the odds and climb from a dismal 16 percent in the polls in December to nearly knocking out his center-left rival all together.

Since his resignation in November 2011, he has been convicted of tax fraud (he is appealing) and he is awaiting a verdict in a sleazy trial in which he is accused of paying an underage alleged exotic dancer for sex on no less than 13 occasions. Berlusconi has denied the allegations.

Changing Italy from the outside
Italy's first hung parliament?
Italy's election forecasts interim govt.
Politicians in Italy make bold promises

His winning campaign promise was as anti-austerity as it comes. He vowed not only to abolish the property tax on primary residences that his successor Mario Monti reinstated when he took the helm. He also promised to reimburse Italians for the property taxes they paid last year. The money, he says, will come from taxes on secret Swiss bank accounts held by wealthy Italians.

The electoral outcome is cloudy at best, and nothing short of chaos at worst, and will most likely lead to another round of elections. There are few scenarios in which either Bersani or Berlusconi could form alliances with Grillo or Monti to form a strong majority to actually lead the country. Monti did not fare well enough to give Bersani the boost he needs, and he has vowed not to do business with Berlusconi.

And Grillo has promised his populist following that he won't join forces with any established political parties, meaning he has no goal other than to be a strong opposition. And who can blame him? He has much more power in his now very strong kingmaker position.

Italy is headed for serious instability at a time when the country is already on its knees. Unemployment is forecast to reach 12 percent next year, according to the European Commission. And the economy is expected to shrink by at least 1 percent in 2013. Political instability is never good for investors, and Italian voters have just ensured an uncertain future by failing to reach a decisive vote.

But things could have been different.

Bersani could have possibly led his party to a far stronger showing if he had allowed Matteo Renzi, the 38-year-old mayor of Florence and center-left darling to run in his place. Instead, the two dueled it out in an ill-advised primary race late last year in which Renzi - and the center-left -- ultimately lost after Bersani sold the party faithful on experience over optimism.

Berlusconi actually admitted he would have never put his name on the ballot if Renzi was running.

And Berlusconi, whose center-right party has strong support among the wealthy entrepreneurs of Italy's productive regions, also passed up an opportunity to make a better showing for the center-right.

By refusing to give up power and pass on his party reigns to Angelino Alfano, his sometimes protégé, he lost the opportunity to attract a younger, stronger center-right vote.

Instead, the duel between Berlusconi and Bersani ended up a somewhat embarrassing battle of silly promises and, ultimately, broken dreams for Italians who will find that however difficult they thought things were, they are bound to get worse.

Now Italy is in a limbo they haven't seen in decades. Having just endured 15 months of technocratic tough love with austerity measures, they have now seemingly squandered the chance for democracy. What comes next is anyone's guess, but it won't be pretty.

"This is a case of gridlock," James Walston of the American University of Rome told CNN. "Nothing could be worse for Europe."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Barbie Latza Nadeau.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT