Italy’s hybrid candidate: “Veltrusconi”
The Italian media thought they coined the term “Veltrusconi” for the possibility of a post-electoral deal between twice prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his centre-left rival, Walter Veltroni, late last year when they began brief discussions about electoral reform, but the word is reported as appearing as red-painted graffiti on a school in Rome as long ago as July 2007, along with the words: “the two-headed monster”. But even though the word has been bandied about liberally in the media ever since, both candidates for April 13-14’s vote were horrified to see their faces physically merge in a disconcerting photo-montage on the front cover of Newsweek.
“It’s horrible,” Veltroni told reporters in response to the hybrid created by Newsweek for a cover story titled “The Mayor V. The Mogul”. It shows the faces of the permanently tanned 71-year-old media tycoon Berlusconi and his bespectacled, bookish 52-year-old rival blending together to the backdrop of Rome’s Colosseum.
“Veltrusconi? It’s an ugly word with no meaning,” said Berlusconi.
Both candidates have constantly denied speculation in the Italian media and among politicians of a “Grand Coalition”, which would last just as long as it takes to reform electoral laws to create a two-party system, then be followed by yet another general election, though they have both acknowledged the possibility of a dead heat or very close result in the upper house or Senate and left the door open to talks on “institutional reform”.
But, as the Newsweek cover and a cartoon on the front cover of Corriere della Sera on Monday show, such talk just won’t go away.
“I really don’t believe there will be any “Veltrusconi” because I think the people of the centre right will prevail in these elections and will have a large majority which will give them the duty and the honour of governing,” Berlusconi told Corriere della Sera readers in an online video chat. He has maintained a lead in opinion polls of between five and nine percentage points in recent months, but Veltroni hopes for an inverted repeated of the 2006 campaign when centre-left challenger Romano Prodi’s six-point lead was drastically reduced in the last few weeks of campaigning, producing the narrowest election result in modern Italian political history. Prodi won, but his tiny Senate majority of just two seats dogged his entire 20 months in office and eventually caused his downfall in January.
“I think you can govern with one or two votes’ difference,” Veltroni told one television interview on Monday. “That is still a majority, even though the Italian people should know whose fault this situation is,” he said, referring to electoral rules introduced by Berlusconi’s last government, know here as the “porcata” (rubbish being a polite translation) which make it virtually impossible to secure a strong majority in the Senate. There are few opinion polls on the Senate vote, since the majority “prize” there is awarded on a regional rather than national basis, but one in La Repubblica last week suggested Berlusconi would only, in the best of cases, be able to count on a margin of five senators in the upper house which has 315 elected members and seven unelected lifetime members.
Talk of an Italian “Grand Coalition” also came up in the Financial Times where Berlusconi’s estranged Christian Democratic ally, Pier Ferdinando Casini, ruled out any two-way coalition with Berlusconi’s People of Freedom though he did appear open to joining a broader German-style Grand Coalition formed by both Berlusconi and Veltroni in the event of a close finish or hung parliament.