Da The Washington Post del 24/10/2005
Originale su http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/23/AR2005...

Though Unpopular, Berlusconi Succeeds at Undoing 'Revolution'

Italian Leader's Critics Fear Return of Corruption, Inefficiency

di Daniel Williams

ROME -- It was called the Italian Revolution. In the early 1990s, dozens of politicians and their business allies were tossed into jail by anti-corruption prosecutors. Political parties that had dominated the country's revolving-door governments for 50 years crumbled. Voters demanded -- and got -- electoral reforms designed to ensure relatively stable governments.

Less than a decade and a half later, the revolution is over. A steady counterattack over the past four years by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's wealthy and assertive prime minister, has nullified many of the laws that made such prosecutions possible. In one recent stroke, Berlusconi's coalition in Parliament this month erased electoral rules that grew out of the upheaval of the '90s and that many voters once hoped would reduce government shakiness and sleaze.

Many of Berlusconi's critics see symptoms of a reborn corrupt and inefficient state in a recent upsurge of organized crime and in scandals that have rocked the country's business sector.

Berlusconi himself has done well under the changes. He has declared that he entered politics to protect his business interests from antitrust moves and himself from prosecution for corruption. He once said: "If I, taking care of everyone's interests, also take care of my own, you can't talk about a conflict of interest."

"It is remarkable that, in serving his own interests, Berlusconi has had the effect of reversing the entire revolution," said Erik Jones, a professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins University Bologna Center. "He may be giving away big achievements for the narrowest of reasons."

Giovanni Sartori, a law professor and frequent critic of Berlusconi's government, said: "Berlusconi has governed strictly from a cost-benefit analysis of how he can serve himself. By his calculation, his job showed results."

Opponents call the new electoral ordinance a prime example of a head of government tailoring laws to his own needs. There was no wide public demand for such a change; it was a Berlusconi initiative, announced six months before national elections scheduled for April.

"This is not about reform," Sartori said. "This is about expediency."

The rules restore Italy to a system of proportional voting in which parties gain seats in Parliament according to the percentage of votes they win nationwide. Voters discarded a similar system by referendum in 1993, after a long period in which Italian governments turned over at a rate averaging more than once a year.

Under the system adopted 12 years ago, 75 percent of seats were contested in winner-take-all districts, the rest by proportional vote. The referendum marked the end of the so-called First Republic, the designation for Italy's post-World War II years.

Berlusconi was elected under the new system twice -- in 1994 and again in 2001. In between, a coalition of Communists, former Communists, Christian Democrats and others took power and remained there for five years.

Analysts say Berlusconi will likely lose the upcoming election to former prime minister Romano Prodi, but that a proportional system will reduce the size of his loss.

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