Monday, April 03, 2006

Italian Politics and Fireside Chats

There will be elections in Italy on April 9, and, according to a BBC article, it seems there is rather a lot of cynicism and discontent among the Italian people.

An excerpt from the article:
"'It's always the same faces,' [explains Martina Ricciardi, a 19 year-old law student]. 'Unless we get some new people, nothing is going to change.'

Talk to Italians long enough and this lack of options is one of the things that frustrates them the most.

While other concerns include the economy, jobs, and immigration, they are angered by the fact that there seems to be little chance of getting past the political point scoring that has hampered Italy's sporadic attempts at reform."
The candidates (quoted material taken from article):
Silvio Berlusconi - considered by many as "nothing more than a businessman who has failed to keep his promise of kick-starting the economy, lined his pockets at the country's expense and continually said the wrong things at the wrong time"

Romano Prodi - considered by many as "the economics professor without a political party who failed to save his government from collapsing in 1998 and who also has been investigated for corruption"
Another excerpt:
"The two men head coalitions that contain parties on the fringes of the left and right wings, something that prompts talk of governmental weakness rather than a confidence they will be able to push through difficult, and unpopular, reforms."
This is why, as much as I dislike our present electoral system (first past the post), I don't advocate party list proportional representation. Of course the Italian political culture is different, so the situation there probably wouldn't be repeated here. Still, most agree that a system like Italy's does more to encourage than discourage ineffectiveness and instability.

The irony (lots of parties, little choice) is interesting. It is understandable, though. If the parties represent the Italian people accurately, they aren't likely to change much over time. It is when a particular segment of the population, or a particular movement, is exaggerated through the efforts of a large political party that change really happens. (Sometimes too much change.)

Really, the best system seems to be something in between the American system (two parties, little choice) and the Italian system (many parties, little choice). The German system, for example, seems eminently reasonable. Maybe I'm biased. :o)

Now for the fireside chat part, inspired by the same article.

It seems that the President of Lombardia, Roberto Formigoni, has an online radio station that "plays music, explains policies and gives listeners a chance to express their views on the state of Italy today." Franklin D. Roosevelt did something similar when he was president of the United States (hence the "fireside chat" reference).

I think it is an excellent idea. As Formigoni says, it is a matter of connecting with the people. Even if the politicians' interest in the views of listeners is feigned — even if it is all a cynical ploy — I think this sort of thing can increase citizens' interest in politics and make them more hopeful.


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