Monday, 7 October 2013

Berlusconi, the GOP and Simon

This article was published in The Malta Independent on Sunday - 06 10  2013

Silvio Berlusconi performed the mother of all u-turns this week.   He grossly  over-estimated his hold on Italian politics and took too much for granted about where the loyalty of his troops lies.   ‘Berlusconi’ should find its place in the Oxford Dictionary to define unashamed hypocritical u-turns.
The elections of last February returned a result which made Italy only governable if the parties of the centre- right and centre-left formed a German style grand coalition.    With the Democratic Party (DP) leader Bersani committing himself not to join any coalition with Berlusconi’s party, the country seemed basically ungovernable.    The DP failed to secure a majority in the Senate even if the independent Senators and the moderate centre parties gave support.   Without Berlusconi party’s support no stable government could be formed.  Berlusconi, whom many had considered down and out when he was forced to resign and make space for Monti’s technical government, unexpectedly had a veto on the formation of government.

It had to be the skill and moral authority of outgoing President Napolitano to force the party leaders, Berlusconi and Bersani, to move aside and appoint Letta as Prime Minister.  Letta comes from the DP on the left but had family members well-known and commanding the confidence of Berlusconi.  This helped to secure a fragile coalition which needed Napolitano to offer himself for re-election as Italy’s President in spite of his age.  Napolitano was considered the only voice that could bring stability in a very volatile political environment where the only deterrence against chaos that would lead to fresh elections, was the fear that the electorates would chastise the traditional party and protest vote to elect comedians and extremists.
Prime Minister Letta was doing a good job against all odds. Last week he was in New York using his presence for the UN Meeting promoting  Italy’s credentials for foreign investments. But Berlusconi wanted to show who was really in charge.

Faced with a final judgement guilty of fraud and tax evasion, Berlusconi was facing the real prospect of being booted out of the Senate and being stripped of civil rights to vote and contest elections. In a clear demonstration that for Berlusconi private interest come before the sovereign safeguards, he pulled the plug on the Letta government and ordered ‘his ministers’ to resign from Cabinet and his delegates to resign from parliament.
It was a shocking move as no one ever thought that Berlusconi would be as daring as to create enough political chaos to render the country ungovernable merely to protect his own skin.   He further made several public outbursts accusing Napolitano and Letta as forming part of grand devious scheme to push him out of politics.

It would not be bad at all if there are controls to ensure that owners of capital and resources do not use their wealth and connections to gain political power to protect their patrimony rather than the general good of the country. But in Berlusconi’s case he was found guilty by several layers of the Italian court system after all possible appeals failed.   It is convenient for Berlusconi to protest the political partiality of the judiciary but arguing that the Italian court system is from top to bottom a front for left wing politics is an insult to intelligence.
From a gallant kamikaze on Sunday Berlusconi was tamed into an unashamed waverer by Wednesday when the Italians could not believe their eyes seeing Berlusconi voting confidence in a government that he brought down in the first place.

Numbers were the source of Berlusconi’s mega shift.   When a sizeable portion of his troops, including the five ministers that were forced to resign from cabinet, made it clear that they will put the country’s interest before Berlusconi’s and if necessary breakaway to form a new moderate centre-right party, Berlusconi was disarmed.  
A similar fate awaits the GOP ( Grand Old Part – Republican Party) in the US.  Their fundamentalism against Obama’s health care initiative to make it accessible to the lower strata of society, coupled with their dislike of Obama personally, is forcing the GOP to jeopardise the country’s interest and reputation to satisfy their obsessions.

Making continuing funding for government operations conditional on de-funding for Obama’s health care signature legislation has forced the US government on life support.   Threatening not to raise the debt ceiling, normally a pure administrative measure to make it possible to fund budgets already approved, could force total government shutdown, including essential services and possibly even defaulting on America’s debt, reducing the US  to the leagues of Argentina, Greece, Jamaica  and Bolivia.  
As public opinion turns against the GOP in disgust of their abuse of democratic power, moderate elements within the GOP will like Berlusconi read the numbers and force the leadership to side-line the Tea Party extreme elements to bring back America to normal civilisation.

And what has Simon got to do in all of this?  Dr Busuttil’s walk-out of parliament this week purely because a Speaker’s ruling did not go his way, is a small example of the my-way-or-the-highway attitude of Berlusconi and the GOP.
But in the PN’s case Simon Busuttil does not even have the political levers to force his points.   Making showdowns is not the way to advance in modern politics.    He can of course disagree with the Speaker’s ruling, he can protest and argue against it, but walking out of parliament is childish and counter-productive.

Dr Busuttil would do himself and his party a great favour if he is more concrete and factual in his criticism.   He is entitled to express suspicions,  but suspicions are no proof.   Assertions do not make facts.   He has all the right to disagree with decisions taken by appointed executives, including the Commissioner of Police, but extending this to assertions of  interference by the Prime Minister needs proof, not mere suspicions.
Busuttil should not imitate Berlusconi or the GOP’s style of leadership.   Rather than showdowns to assert his authority on the Party he would be well advised to work quietly to build and strengthen the Party’s weakened internal structures before starting to play gallery games.


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