Every time you think our political system produces too much gridlock, or that more political parties might somehow make things better, there’s a good chance some European country is holding an election whose results will prove you wrong.
This week, it’s Italy. If you didn’t notice what happened there, your 401(k) almost certainly did yesterday. Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s explanation of the election results there:
Early Tuesday, the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party’s Pier Luigi Bersani appeared to have gained a razor-thin victory in the lower house of parliament over the center-right coalition headed by Mr. Berlusconi — 29.6% to 29.2%, final data from the Interior Ministry showed. By leading the vote count in the lower house, the Democratic Party will automatically get the majority of 340 out 630 seats and, therefore, will likely receive the mandate to form a government.
The Senate, however, appeared headed for political impasse. The Democratic Party was the leading vote-getter in the upper house as well, by less than one percentage point. But its 31.6% result fails to provide its coalition with a majority to pass legislation. If a new government isn’t able to guarantee clear parliamentary support, Italians could return to the polls within months.
Battle lines were already being drawn late Monday. The Democratic Party declared slim victories in both houses, saying it will keep Italy’s interests in mind during this “very delicate situation for the country.” But a top official in Mr. Berlusconi’s center-right coalition said he is asking the country’s interior minister to call the vote a draw.
The apparent stalemate reflects the groundswell of support for former comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement. His throw-the-rascals-out platform drew enough voters to give it nearly as many votes as Italy’s mainstream coalitions — 25.6% in the lower house, according to final data from the Interior Ministry, making it the single largest party in that house.
Lest you miss some of the finer points of what happened there, I’ve put them in bold. The party that forms a government will not be the one that got the most votes — that would be the one led by a former comedian — but rather the one that had the largest coalition of parties. Historically, this coalition approach has not been a stable one. Returning to the polls in the coming months would simply mean the Democratic Party’s hold on power was about as long as Italy’s post-World War II average.
Nevertheless, even though this coalition got less than 30 percent of the votes, it gets 54 percent of the seats. In what way is that more representative of the will of the people than our system with two parties for which many people have to hold their noses when voting?
One does not have to embrace fully our own Republican or Democratic parties to recognize that precious little in the way of better governance would be accomplished by splitting up either or both of them. Better for people disappointed in one or the other to work to strengthen it.
– By Kyle Wingfield