April 13, 2008

Election day reflections

Well, the deed is done.

Just before lunch, I walked up the hill to our local elementary school, got in line for my electoral section and watched the various posters that lined the school hallway go by with their lists upon lists of names and party symbols to sort out. All those lists and names got me nervous and when it was almost my turn, I followed the eyes of the elderly man in front of me and started reading what turned out to be the school menu posted on the door thinking that it might hold the key to the voting process. We agreed that the week's menu looked good to us, but then again it was almost 1:00 and we were hungry.

It was my turn, the first name in my "seggio" (Abbot tends to be at the top of any list). I gave them my voting card and my identity card and received in turn FIVE color coded sheets.
One for the Senate, one for the House, one for the Rome mayor, one for the president of the Lazio province and one for the municipal government.

The Senate and the House sheets contained respectfully 14 and 16 symbols -- the task was to put an X on one of them. The symbols were very pretty and colorful, Italian design at work, and if you put your glasses on, you could often find the name of the "list head" somewhere in the graphics to help you identify who was attached to which symbol.

The other ballots consisted of both party symbols and names -- between one and ten symbols supporting each name. Here you could either X a name (without a preference for which party 's support) or just the party list (which includes automatically the name), or, why not?, put an X on both the list and the name (which becomes redundant with respect of the second choice). (sorry--running out, will turn photo later..)

I folded up the ballots, placed each one in its color-coded box, picked up my ID card and voter card and skipped out.

At least I had done my duty, but not with a lightness of spirit. There is a sad state of affairs and I fear my vote will not stop the tsunami of Berlusconi and his impossible media-driven machine. What can I do, but vote.

The foreign press is up in arms and truly bewildered this time around -- how is it that this man can come back for a third term. A true Italian mystery. If Italy is a county based on appearances, he is certainly the showpiece. Contrary to all logic and common sense, people believe his superficial slogans, youthful appearance and wildly improbable campaign promises.

Calls for reforms come and go but change does not take place. The country is too divided to agree on anything as overriding as constitutional and electoral reforms. So they are discussed but never come to form.

But I digress and all this has been said before and is being said again in the foreign papers. (the German paper Spiegel had this interesting article -- sent to me by a German blog follower).

What perhaps I can add is a few observations on the possible cultural roots of the Italian political system's morass.

Ministro Amato stated an important truth the other day, Italy was formed in 1860 as a state, but not a nation. It is still today struggling to find a common identity from the myriad of localized (and often historically feudal) realities. Anna Finocchiaro, leader of the PD in the Senate and a Sicilian by birth, has been given the task of preventing the whole of Sicily from going to Berlusconi. She states, "Voters here are as tied to the bosses as in the days of feudalism." The ties are formed through an endless network of favors and connections that feed on more favors and connections until this web becomes a voter block. This kind of intertwined relations and reciprocal connections does not favor nor facilitate change and this is the key to Italy's stagnation on many fronts.

Unwritten systems that have grown out of centuries of "si fa così," cannot be changed, because, on paper, they do not even exist!

While we all love and appreciate the distinct differences in Italian food from one region (and even one town) to another, this desire to covet interests close to home spills over into a need to defend small and local interests in the form of parties in the name of every imaginable sector of society.

The innate need to be particolare in all aspects of life also lends to the development of multiple parties. Everyone has to get on a particular bandwagon to achieve personal identity.

The only problem is that national identity behind a political system that works for the common good instead of defending localized and particular interests, is still to be achieved.

And reforms that would allow for such an identity to be formed, are resting in the wings, hoping to one day walk on stage -- to the applause of the rest of the world.

a domani,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Elizabeth,

As they say, misery loves company! The election results are coming in fast and hard, and they hurt! So you now know how I voted.

Nevertheless, at least there is this wonderful article of yours to keep me company and assure me that there are probably lots of people out there truly concerned, interested in understanding how things work beyond their highly controlled TV sets, and determined to do their best to improve the common lot. BUT WHERE WERE THEY THIS WEEKEND HERE IN ITALY?

Well, I too have done my duty for what it was worth. I am sorry for many Italians, but this time I agree with the more serious foreign press: Berlusconi yet again? PERHAPS THE ITALIANS DESERVE WHAT QUITE A FEW WANTED. This evening I am in no mood to be understanding. Thanks for bearing this burden for me.

Misery loves company. Thanks.