Progressive USA is abuzz over the elections that took place on November 8th. Do the victories in New Jersey and particularly Virginia point the way towards a massive reallocation of House of Representative seats in favor of Democrats in 2018? Let’s hope so, and I will be returning from Italy in early 2018 to do my little part in trying to make that happen. But in the meantime ever since we got to Italy in September, the talk has been that the Sicilian regional elections will be indicative of what happens in the national parliamentary elections in 2018. Most of my Italian comrades and particularly the Florentines say that “Sicilia non e’ Italia” (Sicily is not Italy) but nevertheless some of the things that happened in the regionals while we were in the capital city of Sicily, Palermo, are instructive and revealing.
Sunday, November 5, was Election Day in Sicily. All elections in Italy are on Sunday, a very civilized practice, but probably one that has its origins in the Christian Democrats wanting to have a final word with the voters in Mass before they headed to the urns. Sicily is one of 21 Italian regions which elects a President and a regional parliament. The Sicilian Regional Assembly (ARS) meets at the Palazzo dei Normanni, as its name suggests the home of the Norman conquerors of the 1100’s, but also the home (1130) of the first parliament in European history. The Sicilian post war and post fascist parliamentary system of 1947 actually predates the parliament of the Italian 1st Republic (1948) and has its own features, one of which provides for the election of a regional President (Governor) separate from the parliamentary majority.
These elections were seen as the first big battle between the two forces that are predicted by the national polls to battle for power in 2018 on a national level – Centro Destra (Center Right) and Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement). The Sicilian and national governing party the Center-left Pd is struggling with internal divisions and those too were on display in Sicily. While Sicily is seen as a right-wing region historically, The Pd has governed in Sicily for 5 years since the elections of 2012 brought it to power because of divisions in the Center Right.
The final results were the following after vote counting was completed on Monday, November 6:
· Nello Musumeci of the Center Right – 40% of the vote for President – He himself is from a small Sicilian party but ran in alliance with Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s national party so he was the candidate of five parties.
· Giancarlo Cancelleri of M5S – 34.6% of the vote and all the votes were for his M5S, which as a single party was the largest vote getter in Sicilia.
· Fabrizio Micari – CenterLeft and a member of the Partito Democratico which was the top vote getter in his coalition of 4 parties
· Claudio Fava – Candidate of the Left 6.20% enough to get over the 5% threshold and get a deputy in the Assembly.
In the end because the Presidential vote is not synonymous with the parliamentary vote (people can split their tickets), the Center Right ended up with at least 35 seats out of 70 in the Regional Assembly, enough to cobble together a ruling legislative coalition.
Many in the Western press saw Musumeci’s victory as the reemergence of Mr. “B”, or Il Cavaliere as Silvio Berlusconi is referred to in the Italian press. While he is barred by a 2013 court decision from serving in government, he is seen as a kingmaker and is still the de facto leader of Forza Italia, the party he founded in the 1990’s in the wake of the bribery scandals that rocked Italian politics.
In looking at the leading candidates we can get a flavor of the race and the features particular to Sicily.
The winner is Sebastiano “Nello” Musumeci, an ally of Berlusconi who served in his last cabinet. A very polished politician with a past that would be disturbing even in the United States of Donald Trump and the candidacy of Roy Moore in Alabama. Musumeci came up in Giovane Italia, the youth group of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the post war fascist party led by Giorgio Almirante. Musumeci named one of his sons after Almirante and wrote a book in 1991, entitled “Return of the Flame” that celebrated fascism and declared his pride in the culture of Catania, known as the “blackest” (most fascist) city in Italy. Now he speaks of himself as “Fascista per Bene”, a fascist for the good.
The M5S candidate – Gian Carlo Cancelleri – He highlighted his history as a businessman and in grass roots organizing although it appears that his first such grass roots activity was to rally citizen opposition to mandated recycling programs. Cancelleri’s M5S was projected by many to win outright in Sicily, and his party got the single largest number of votes but was beaten by the Center Right coalition. The defeat was stunning because the mercurial leader of the M5S, the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, had promised victory in Sicily. Because the M5S defines itself as a non-party citizens movement it cannot ally with parties, therefore it is left with the most number of seats (21) in the Sicilian Regional parliament but is resigned to being in the opposition. This scenario could well play out in 2018 on a national scale because again the M5S will not be in coalition or shared electoral lists with other parties and therefore triumph at the polls, but be left out of government
Fabrizio Micari, the candidate of the Center Left was lifted out of the ranks of the Academy with no experience in elected office. He is the rector of the University of Palermo and was chosen as a sacrificial lamb for whom none of the “bigs” of the Partito Democratico were willing to come and campaign. His defeat and ignominious third place finish is more a reflection of the challenges of the left than of his own personal failings as a candidate. The left in Sicily, as in the rest of Italy, is split. This is a dangerous, but not new development, that signals big challenges in 2018.
Claudio Fava, who ran as the left candidate in Sicily and who will matriculate into the Parliament as the one deputy of the left, is part of the national left that split off from the Pd in February, 2016, taking 43 formerly Pd deputies out of the party’s parliamentary constellation. These forces, allied with some of the historic leaders of the old Partito Communista Italiano, (PCI) and the largest Italian Labor Federation, the CGIL, remain critical of ex Premier Matteo Renzi and his 1000 days in office. A time that saw passage of Article 18 of the Jobs Act, which gave employers more flexibility in hiring in small firms but according to the CGIL increased the ranks of the precarious. Fava, himself an accomplished water polo player and excellent speaker, ran a valiant race in Sicily but was doomed from the start to the 6-7% of the vote he ended up getting.
Finally, as with elections in many western countries, those who abstained among registered voters outnumbered the voting electorate. Less than 47% voted in Sicily. This in the context of a 72% turnout in the last national election, a stunning number in light of our low turnout but concerning because between 1948-1976 the Italian turnout was about 92%.