International Papers

Arrivederci Berlusconi?

The world press looks at Italy’s contested election results.

After closely watched elections in Italy, the country is ready to rumble. On the left side of the ring, we have Romano “the Mortadella” Prodi, who appears to have won by a teeny margin. On the right, we have the incumbent, Silvio “Il Cavaliere” Berlusconi, who cites voting irregularities and says the race is still too close to call. Who will triumph? The international press tries to sort out the first round.

France’s left-leaning Le Monde provides a special edition on the poll and its aftermath. In an op-ed, Prodi himself outlines his political program: to revolutionize his country’s foreign policy by—sarcastic drumroll, please—advancing a strong and unified Europe while maintaining close ties with the United States. How original.

The paper’s editorial writers, however, manage to move beyond the obvious and provide some insight: The country is literally “cut in two,” with the north supporting Berlusconi and the south backing his rival. Il Cavaliere is “not afraid of contradiction,” simultaneously contesting the election results and proposing a “grand coalition” with the left. Meanwhile, Prodi could face challenges from the Communists, who helped bring down his last government in 1998.

Other useful articles include an analysis of Berlusconi’s grand-coalition offer, an interview with an academic, a press roundup, and a rundown of possible scenarios if neither side secures a majority in Parliament.

Further on the left, Libération provides the most thorough special edition, with an especially handy box of short pieces: stats on the country, an outline of its electoral system, profiles of the dueling pols, and links to other resources. Or, give your eyes a rest and listen to Italian film director Marco Tullio Giordana take down Berlusconi. Finally, please, please, please don’t miss “Made in Italy” (on the right-hand side of the special edition’s front page), a slide show featuring more Italian men in Speedos than anyone really needs to see. (Check out Slide 13, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.)

As you’d expect, rightist Le Figaro focuses on the narrowness of Prodi’s win and Berlusconi’s challenge. But the paper’s editorial is a must-read: France and Germany, like Italy, are also divided nations. All three face high unemployment, stagnating economies, and a fear of reform. As a result, voters across the Continent “refuse to decide” between the left and the right, possibly making the nations “ungovernable.”

Also easy to predict, Communist l’Humanité gloats over Berlusconi’s defeat, gleefully proclaiming it “the death knell” for “one of the harshest and most populist” right-wing governments in Europe.

Across the channel, a commentary in the Guardian by Jonathan Freeland concludes that Berlusconi’s defeat was almost assured, barring big mistakes by the left. Freeland excoriates “his rampant egotism, from the cosmetic surgery and hair treatment to the comparisons of himself to Napoleon and Jesus.” Nonetheless, he says, the progressives didn’t win big because they haven’t presented a clear alternative. A story analyzing Berlusconi’s refusal to concede gets an ominous-sounding headline: “Italy in political turmoil.”

Over at the Independent, the cover screams, “The end of the line for the godfather,” with a cheeky subhead about the other big story out of Italy this week: “And Italy’s top Mafia boss is arrested in Sicily.” A navel-gazing piece speculates about the future of Tony Blair and the United Kingdom’s role in Iraq now that his only other European amico has lost: “Mr. Blair is likely to put a brave face on the defeat, although many will see it as a further nail in his own political coffin.”

Reflecting on Prodi’s razor-thin victory, the Financial Times recalls a memorable assessment of Italy’s new proportional representation system: A former capo in Berlusconi’s government called it “una porcata—’crap’—a system all too likely to produce no clear winner at a time when Italy badly needed the hand of firm government to reform the stumbling economy.” And that prediction proved true this week. The paper also takes delight in spanking the leader of the British Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament for prematurely issuing a press release about Berlusconi’s defeat just after the polls closed: “Does Davies have a crystal ball? Or just a typical politician’s need to make a statement?”

According to the Daily Telegraph, Berlusconi’s refusal to concede doesn’t stem from a love of public service or of Italy—it’s all about him: “Most of all, perhaps, Mr. Berlusconi is frightened of losing his fame.” This armchair diagnosis references his book The True Italian Story, which features him on “page after glossy page hugging rock stars and laughing together with other world leaders.”

And, just in time for Easter, another article reports that the self-proclaimed “Jesus Christ of politics” might have a shot at resurrection.