Italy’s Parliament Ushers In New Berlusconi Era

Italy's Parliament Ushers in New Berlusconi Era

April 29, 2008

Italy's parliament got down to business after the recent victory for Silvio Berlusconi's center-right party. The strong showing will make it easier for Berlusconi to push through reforms.

The first official item on the Italian Senate agenda was to elect a speaker. In the rough-and-tumble world of Italian politics, this is usually a drawn-out, contentious decision.

Yet Renato Schifani sailed through the approval process on Tuesday, April 29. The selection of the long-time Berlusconi aid was the first indication that conservatives have consolidated their power and will not be stopped by the fragmentation that plagued past Italian governments.

Berlusconi's center-right won a solid victory in the April 13-14 elections, with small parties and the extreme left and right losing seats. The result has left the Senate divided into fairly clean-cut majority and minority camps.

Berlusconi, a 71-year-old media tycoon, won the recent national elections in Italy by a surprisingly wide margin, claiming the prime minister's office for the third time. And on Monday, his ally Gianni Alemanno was elected mayor of Rome — the first conservative to win the post in 15 years.

“I am the happiest man in all of Italy,” Berlusconi said on Monday.

Italian-style politics

Yet Schifani's easy election did not leave Italy without its traditional political grandstanding.

The leader of the federalist and anti-immigration Northern League, Umberto Bossi, brought some color to proceedings, when, ignoring his ally Berlusconi's recent pleas not to use inflammatory language, he issued a warning to the center-left minority.

“I don't know what the Left wants, but if they are looking for a clash, I have 300,000 men” ready to mobilize, Bossi said, adding that the Northern Leagues' “guns are always warm” to blast through federalist reforms if necessary.

The Northern League did even better than expected and Bossi is thought to be a possible reforms minister in Berlusconi's future cabinet.

Berlusconi in full control

The lower Chamber of Deputies is expected to follow the Senate's lead and elect a Berlusconi supporter as its speaker on Wednesday. Gianfranco Fini, leader of the post-Fascist National Alliance, is expected to win the post. His party merged with Berlusconi's People of Freedom for the elections.

Once both speakers have been sworn in, President Giorgio Napolitano will hold consultations with all parliamentary groups and then formally ask Berlusconi to form a government. The government will then have to be approved with confidence votes in both houses of parliament — a process which is expected to be completed by the end of next week.

Berlusconi has said he will use his win to push through electoral reforms and an ambitious economic agenda.