TCS Daily


The Fini Option

By Stefania Lapenna - October 26, 2005 12:00 AM

Italians are in the midst of one of the most exciting election campaigns in 60 years of democratic life. The ruling coalition, the House of Freedom, is trying to convince voters it deserves re-election to another five-year term. Winning will not be an easy task for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his political allies. Over the past two years, they have steadily been losing popularity.

Some polls recently showed Berlusconi gaining some momentum, but not enough to defeat the newly energized center-left coalition, known by the name The Union. The latter held a US-style national convention and primary to choose its candidate for the premiership, former European Commission President Romano Prodi.

The unusual (for the left) emphasis on unity has helped Prodi, but his coalition is no doubt concerned about what Berlusconi's next moves will be.

While still facing internal divisions, the current prime minister has decided that it is time to put differences aside and start working to avert a leftist win next year. With polls showing him 10 points behind, Berlusconi agreed to hold his own national convention, thus helping to unite a coalition previously divided by differences over which candidate would have a better chance to beat Prodi.

After months of tension, things now seem to be going better for the House of Freedom than the Union. Prospects of a likely win of the current foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, in the center-right's primaries are giving right-wing leaders more confidence about next year's election. There's more reason for optimism than there was, say, seven months ago. Recent polls are showing Fini as the likely winner in case he is chosen to face Romano Prodi.

While most right-wing voters are disappointed in Berlusconi's performance during his five years as head of government, they seem enthusiastic about voting for Fini. Even the undecided see the current foreign minister as a trustworthy person and one willing to keep his electoral promises. Fini's popularity has never declined as much as Berlusconi's and, on the contrary, he has gained the most, whereas all the other coalition parties are losing support.

Chances of a right-wing victory are also helped by the Italian Parliament's decision on whether to approve a law instituting proportional representation. If the law is approved - and almost surely it will be - Prodi and his allies will have to fight hard to beat the House of Freedom. The leftist coalition is now threatening to take to the streets to protest what it calls "the last card played by Berlusconi".

Prodi, worried about the possibility that he will have to face Fini instead of Berlusconi, is trying to start the election campaign by...telling voters what he will do if elected. But this is where he risks opposition from his own coalition allies, mainly the communists, who are unlikely to endorse what they see as quasi-"capitalist". That is why the Union still does not have a firm idea of how to win the votes it will need to form a government.

Unlike them, Fini will be able to convince Italian voters to choose him rather than the other side. More importantly, he is less likely to face internal opposition to his policies.

Berlusconi may have failed in the eyes of most Italians. But prospects are very positive for the future of the House of Freedom. Unless tensions in the center-right coalition rise again, Prodi and friends will have to wait five more years before they can reach their goal.

Stefania Lapenna is an Italian activist. She is the author of the weblog Free Thoughts.


 

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