The so-called 'gridlock' issue is on the surface, hidden behind a clear message that voters were sending to the political world, a message that neoliebral policies and austerity are impoverishing the middle class and workers, while creating greater socioeconomic polarization in society, without light at the end of the tunnel. The mainstream media dismissed the elections as 'gridlock', because it refuses to recognize that Italian voters are rejecting a political economy perpetually degrading the social fabric and depriving hope for a better future from the current generation of young people.
The election of 2013 is very different from all past elections for the following reasons.
First, all of Southern Europe has been under EU-IMF-imposed austerity that has devastated middle and working class income groups, while driving unemployment to record levels in the postwar era. Italians fear that their fate may be much like that of Greece and Spain, so the election was an opportunity to assert that their country has the potential to emerge from the deep recession instead of sinking lower with austerity and neoliberalism.
Second, prior to the election of 2013, Italy's prime minister was the technocrat Mario Monti who came right out of the world of high finance and collaborated with the IMF and Germany to impose austerity. Voters gave Monti just under 10% of the vote, which is to say that only one in ten approved of austerity under neoliberalism, an sign that Italians strongly disagreed with the course the country had taken.
Third, Italy's vote was a rejection of the new model of integration that Germany has been trying to impose on the rest of Europe. This is a model that does away with the previous interdependence and is based on a patron-client relationship. In short, this model is similar to what the US has under various integration models in dealing with Latin America over which the US historically enjoys economic hegemony. The German model of integration reflects its determination to impose neoliberalism that favors the strongest economy in the EU at the expense of the weaker ones, so that Germany may be able to compete on a world scale.
Fourth, the Italian election is an affirmation of economic nationalism and restoration of social welfare policies. Whether voters cast their ballot for the center-left candidate Bersani, for the rightist-populist candidate Berlusconi, of for the left-populist candidate Beppe Grillo, they were affirming their desire to restore society into some kind of balance where democracy takes precedence over markets.
Fifth, the election in Italy is very significant for the entire EU, because Italy is the EU's fourth largest economy, and the eurozone's third largest. Unlike Greece, Portugal and Spain, Italy is sending a strong signal to the rest of EU and the world that austerity and neoliberalism will not work and must be tempered at the very least. In the past two years, Greece, Portugal and Spain had elections and voted out of power their Socialist governments pursuing neoliberal policies and austerity measures. In all three southern European countries voters brought back to power conservative governments that have been pursuing the exact same policies as the Socialists. The elections in Portugal, Spain and Greece, as well as Cyprus just this month, emboldened the austerity and neoliberal advocates, and especially Germany that is trying to impose a new integration model. Now, Italy's voters come along and challenge that model of integration and development, sending the message that the country's future cannot be determined by large financial interests and Germany that has been steering Europe towars the austerity-neoliberal path.
Sixth, the IMF and EU leadership has been arguing that there is no alternative to austerity and neoliberalism, as though this is religious dogma from which sinners cannot deviate for they will suffer in Hell. In point of fact, the austerity-neoliberal path is the only path designed to transfer income from the middle class and workers in order to strengthen the large capitalist interests, banks, insurance, and multinational corporations, all at the expense of small business and workers, all at the expense of smaller countries suffocating under austerity and neoliberalism. Italians overwhelmingly sent the message to the political class that a new course is necessary. If such a course does not take place, and what emerges from these elections is a coalition that continues with austerity and neloliberalism, I would not be surprised that the next step will be mass protests and social upheaval across Italy.
The "spin" from some analysts is that the message in the Italian election was that voters were rejecting the traditional political parties, invariably incompotent and corrupt. In other words, people were rejecting the traditional political arena, not the financial and economic policies that the IMF-EU have imposed on Italy in order to strengthen large finance capital. The results, however, indicate that Berlusconi, the ultimate insider politician received around 30% of the vote, and Bersani, also a tradfitional politician received another 30% or so. Only Grillo is the protest candidate, the anti-establishment, anti-political arena candidate that won about 25%.
The Italian election did return roughly 30% of the vote for Berlusconi, a billionaire with a very corrupt past and policies that contributed to Italy's economic problems. Moreover, Berlusconi had embraced neoliberal policies in the past, but in 2013 he tried to reemerge as an economic nationalist with a rightist populist message that attracted a sizable percentage of the voters who do not wish to contunue with austerity, but neither do they want a leftist or left-populist government. The response from the mainstream political, business and media establishment is that Italy has responsibility to the markets that did not react well to the election outcome. The suggestion that the only indicator to consider is the markets, and not the people, means that politicians must be accountable to finance capital and not the people who vote. Therefore, market-style accountability suggests that democracy must yield to the markets.
The more intriguing message in Italy's election results, however, was the 25% that Grillo received. More than a year ago, I wrote about the grassroots movement in Italy and Europe ((Messiah Politics, December 2011) and about Grillo who has castiagted corruption in the political arena and the fact that mainstream politicians represent business interests to the detriment of the rest of the people. The grassroots movement is now part of the political arena, and that is a powerful message not just for Italy, but all of Europe. No matter the media propaganda, the Italian election results are not about gridlock, but about massive popular demand for systemic change toward greater social justice.
Unlike Spain, Porugal and Greece that have been in the periphery of the EU economic zone, playing second fiddle to northwest Europe for a very long time, Italy has struggled to retain a position at the political and economic core of the EU. Neoliberalism and austerity are seriously threatening that role Italy has enjoyed, and the election of February 2013 was an indication that the majority of the people will not accept a lesser position in the EU as Germany wishes for Italy. The recognition by the majority of the voters that their country under the newly-shaped EU integration model would have its great power status among the G-7 diminished and placed in the same category as Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Greece is the underlying dynamic at work in the political arena.