How the “Monti factor” might change the election campaign in Italy

A lot has changed in the world since 1994. For example, in 1994, Barack Obama was just a civil rights attorney in Chicago: now he is the President of the United States. In 1994, Gérard Depardieu was French and quite thin: now he is Russian and rather fat. I have also changed from 1994: unfortunately, I have less hair and far more wrinkles. Apparently, just Italian politics hasn’t changed from 1994. In fact, in the next general elections, to be held on 24th and 25th February, Italians are very likely to experience another “political déjà vu”.

On the right wing, once again, there will be Silvio Berlusconi and his loyal ally Lega Nord (Northern League). On the left side of the spectrum, once again, the heirs of the Italian Communist Party. Between them, like in 1994, there will be a political centre that is not likely to gain the majority of the votes. The same, trite political comedy will be played by many of the actors that were on stage in the last 18 years: Berlusconi, Maroni, Casini, Fini, Bersani. As in the recent past, the election campaign will be probably characterized by the media invasion of Silvio Berlusconi, who will try to persuade voters with the same, old promises about tax reduction. In this campaign, the strongest winds of change are expected to come from the “5-stars Movement” of comedian Beppe Grillo. Nevertheless, I argue that the “Monti factor” will represent the strongest force to change a predictable scenario.

The unwanted third party

With the leadership of Mario Monti, the centre coalition will gain a relevant weight. Without him, the parties of the centre (Casini´s Union of Centre – UDC, Fini´s Future and Freedom – FLI, with the support of Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, head of Ferrari) would get around 10% of the vote. Thanks to the “Monti factor”, the alliance might reach 20%. Although this score is not enough to win a majority (the centre-of-left coalition is likely to get about 40%, Berlusconi and Lega Nord around 25%), it will allow the centre to play acrucial role in the elections, for the first time since 1994. Hence, the “Monti factor” will change the traditional balance of the campaigns that have taken place in the recent past. This time, it won´t be all about Berlusconi and the Lega Nord versus the centre-of-left. This time, there is an unwanted third party (the centre lead by Monti) that has to be taken into account.

Unveiling the true face of Silvio Berlusconi

The rise of the centre in the polls carries a key consequence for Berlusconi´s party People of Freedom (PDL). Actually, Berlusconi has always proclaimed himself as the leader of moderates, the Italian representative of the family of the European Popular Party. The support he has been given by the Catholic Church during the last 18 years has strengthened this claim. However, in this campaign, this role is going to be played by Mario Monti, who has got an endorsement by L´Osservatore Romano (The Roman Observer), the Vatican newspaper, as well as by the leaders of the EPP. In this sense, the “Monti factor” will marginalise Silvio Berlusconi towards the right-populist wing, which is the place where his political vision belongs, as he has never been neither a practicing Catholic, nor a pro-European leader.

Less dreams, more tweets

The marginalisation of Silvio Berlusconi in the 2013 campaign might take place also in the communication domain. Of course, not from a quantitative point of view: the traditional TV invasion he has been performing since 1994, in fact, has already started at the beginning of this campaign. But from a qualitative viewpoint, the “Monti factor” might be able to weaken the power of Berlusconi´s demagogic discourse. In fact, Mr Monti is likely to set up a campaign based on concrete ideas on how to improve the economic situation of Italy and restore consumer confidence.

So will Mr Bersani and his Democratic Party do. Hence, campaigning against each other on the base of a solid economic and social programme, Monti and Bersani will isolate Berlusconi and the Lega Nord for the first time since 1994, underlining the populist nature of their political vision. Moreover, Mr Monti has been the pioneer of social media in this election campaign. Although the latter do not yet reach the majority of the Italians, they are increasingly influent among young people.

Monti, who has nonetheless been hosted in many TV programs so far, is the only candidate who has made use of Twitter to launch his candidacy. Pushed by the “Monti factor”, Bersani and Berlusconi will now be obliged to measure themselves with the powerful but insidious tools of Twitter and Facebook, which demand for more interactions with the electors.

Traditions are (not) meant to be broken

To sum it up, Mario Monti´s candidacy as Prime Minister in the next general elections might change the traditional script of Italian election campaigns since 1994, as he can give more importance to the centre, and therefore marginalise Berlusconi and his ally Lega Nord. In other European countries (like, for example, the Netherlands), this will be enough to cut off the populist parties in favour of a moderate, pro-European front. But Italians, as suggested by their stereotype, are far more attracted by the horse-race side of election campaigns. And Italy is a country in which, according to the market research firm Demos&Pi, around 40% of the population don’t use the Internet.

Berlusconi, a gifted entertainer, knows better than anyone else how to gather his supporters for the final match. In this way, the “Monti factor”, based on the British aplomb of the Professor, is in danger of being voided by who has always embodied the worst vices of the Italians.