Italian general election: Mr Big buys his way to power
RIGHT-WING BILLIONAIRE Silvio Berlusconi, has won the Italian general election.
Berlusconi’s coalition secured an absolute majority over Francesco Rutelli’s “olive tree” coalition in both the Senate and the lower house Chamber of Deputies.
Inital results suggest the Left-reformist Communist Refoundation achieved around 6% – similar to its 1994 result.
One of Berlusconi’s coalition partners – the racist Northern League – saw its vote bomb to 4.3% from its previous 10.1%. However, the far right National Alliance gained 14%.
Trade union leader Claudio Sabattini of the country’s largest union, CGIL, has predicted a “hot summer” of strikes over wages and job security if Berlusconi is elected. Unrest over these issues and attacks on pensions “could easily develop into a general strike”, said Sabattini.
There are, however, only slight policy differences between the right-wing “House of Freedoms” (coalition of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Umberto Bossi’s separatist Northern League and the National Alliance – ex-Mussolini fascists – led by Gianfranco Fini) and the ‘centre Left’ “Olive Tree” coalition of ex-communist Left Democrats, and former Socialists and Christian Democrats. (The Communist Refoundation withdrew in 1998).
Berlusconi wants to slash taxes especially for the rich by abolishing gift and inheritance taxes and exempting reinvested profits.
Rutelli too promises lower taxes for businesses. Like the Right, Rutelli also wants to speed up the introduction of neo-liberal capitalist policies such as labour deregulation and more privatisation.
But neither leader wants to tackle the funding of pensions which account for 30% of state spending and which the bosses are demanding is cut. To do so would risk bringing hundreds of thousands of trade unionists back onto the streets.
Immigrant workers are being scapegoated, especially by the Northern League, for crime. Significantly, the vote for the League crashed compared with its 1994 result.
Both coalitions said they would tighten restrictions on immigrant workers. Yet, the bosses, especially in northern Italy, depend on these people to provide cheap, casual labour. Zanussi has specifically targeted such workers, setting up factories that employ these migrants.
Berlusconi – Unfit to govern
ACCORDING TO Forbes magazine Silvio Berlusconi is the world’s 14th richest person. His wealth is estimated to be $12.8 billion.
Through his Finivest holding company, he controls three TV networks, Italy’s biggest publishing house (Mondadori), a major newspaper (Il Giornale) and football team AC Milan. Berlusconi sees no conflict of interests between his financial empire and as a politician acting ‘in the public interest’.
Berlusconi was prime minister of a short-lived, right-wing governing coalition in 1994. But corruption scandals, splits with the Northern League and mass pressure from the organised working class brought his seven-month old government crashing down.
On 14 October 1994, a massive movement of three million workers took to the streets against Berlusconi’s proposed budget.
Berlusconi portrays himself as a self-made businessman set apart from the political establishment. To perpetuate this myth he circulated to households millions of a 128-page glossy ‘history’ album entitled: An Italian Story. (Thoughtfully, the Greens provided paper-recycling bins!)
In fact, Berlusconi has been found guilty of illegally financing his Forza Italia party, four counts of corruption including bribing the financial police, false accounting and tax fraud.
He escaped jail only on legal technicalities but more investigative cases of bribery and corruption involving his multibillion dollar media, property and financial empire are continuing.
The Economist has declared him ‘unfit to govern’. Not that political corruption is of any great surprise to Italians – a country where 20% of businesses are part of the Mafia empire with an annual turnover of about $133 billion, the equivalent of 15% of GNP!