It took nearly 60 days for Italy's politicians to agree on a prime minister. The new cabinet was sworn in on Sunday. Led by Letta of the center-left Democratic Party, the government includes ministers from Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party. Italy, like Greece, now has a coalition made up of opposing parties whose political platforms could not be more different from each other.
New Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) faces severe political and economic pressures and will have to score quick successes in the coming months. He needs to satisfy voters who are sick of economic stagnation and cutbacks while meeting the demands of investors for painful structural reforms -- and keeping the rival parties in his coalition happy.
The fact that Italy finally has a government again is good news in itself. The fact that it doesn't consist of 'technocrats,' and that politicians are the ones taking political responsibility again, is equally positive. The wrangling during the second half of Mario Monti's term showed that people without party affiliation can't perform miracles either.
Letta could bridge the gap between the opposing camps of the center-right and center-left -- that hasn't been possible for the last 20 years. If Letta's government can contribute to a reconciliation of the political camps, and to a more balanced tone of political discourse, the benefit would be enormous.
But doubts remain whether the new and younger cabinet will really be able to bring about the turnaround Italy needs. It's just a detail, but it fans such doubts, that Letta wasn't able to push through his plan to drastically cut the size of the cabinet. It has 21 instead of 12 portfolios because the Democratic Party and Berlusconi's PdL refused to abandon their 'combinazioni.'
The reform of electoral law, one of the most important points in the task list formulated by (Italian President Girogio) Napolitano, will remain a stumbling block because it is so closely intertwined with the distribution of power. The failed attempts to elect a new president showed how riven the PD is by power disputes. Berlusconi's people are subject to the mood swings of the capricious party patriarch who also finances them -- and are likely to engage in power struggles and position-jockeying over who will take over from the ageing 'Il Cavaliere.'"
Letta wants to restore credibility to politics. He intends to reform the electoral law and put an end to the European austerity measures -- although he is just as committed to the European project as his predecessor, Mario Monti. Yet Letta's hands are tied because the positions of his coalition partners are so diverse. His government offers barely more than a brief reprieve -- perhaps for a year, perhaps only until this fall. Indeed, the last few days have revealed two things: The left has failed, at least for the time being, and Berlusconi, the great survivor, is still pulling the political strings.
Given the unpredictability of Italian politics, it's impossible to forecast how long Letta's government will last. It could be anything from a few months to a few years. It won't be an easy time, the PdL is likely to make blackmail attempts and complicate policymaking especially in areas affecting Silvio berlusconi's interests -- in particular regarding the introduction of a wealth tax or a new anti-corruption law. Besides, Letta isn't safe from traitors in his own party. His political life will depend on how quickly and constructively this experimental cabinet can deliver results.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
Photo-Credit: AFP: New Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta