A Nation Divided
Not the United States, but Italy. The recent parliamentary elections were narrowly won by the “Left,” an assemblage of parties, ranging from former Communists to left-of-center Christian Democrats. They are led by “the Professor,” Romano Prodi. The colorless Prodi comes out of that Bologna Catholicism which, in the persons of Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro and his influential and charismatic advisor, Giuseppe Dossetti, played an important role at Vatican II. (For some detail, see the newly published book by Giuseppe Alberigo, A Brief History of Vatican II [Orbis].)
The “Right,” led by former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, lost the popular vote by less than 40,000 votes. However, thanks to a Berlusconi-engineered electoral reform, Prodi and his allies enjoy a working majority in the Assembly, but a bare majority in the Senate.
Amidst a polarized nation, and porous coalitions, a rock of unity and respect has been provided by the 85 year old President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. I was in Rome last Spring to witness a most respectful and intellectually acute exhange of visits and discourses between Ciampi and the newly elected, Benedict XVI. Unfortunately for the nation, Ciampi’s seven year term is about to expire.
Though asked by both sides to consider a second term, Ciampi, for evident personal reasons, but also for reasons of principle has declined to stand for re-election. His departure will be a serious loss for Italian democracy. Even though the President has limited powers, he serves as the moral compass of the nation.
Elections for a new President of the Republic will begin on Monday in a joint session of the Assembly, the Senate, and Regional delegates. The first three ballots require a two-thirds majority. After that, fifty percent plus one suffices to gain the office.
Hope for a candidate of union, above the strife of parties, (someone in the style of Ciampi), has, of this posting, failed to win consensus. The presumed candidate of the “Left,” is the former Communist, the widely respected Massimo D’Alema. But he is unacceptable to large segments of the “Right.”
If no compromise is reached and the President elected by only a slim majority, the current divide in Italy may well become an abyss.
For lovers of the tongue of Dante, today’s Corriere della Sera, offers the analysis of the thoughtful commentator, Ernesto Galli della Loggia — he of the mellifluous name.