Crisis and opportunity
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The flux in Rome could help the new coalition push through vital reforms
The February 24-25 national parliamentary elections represent a watershed in the political history of Italy. The results proved to be completely different from what the polls had predicted. The winning coalition (PD and SEL) that emerged from the election has a comfortable majority in the Chamber of Deputies (the Lower House), but it does not have a similar one in terms of seats in the Senate (Upper House), due to different electoral rules governing the distribution of seats in the two chambers. In the Chamber of Deputies, the distribution of seats is based on the total number of votes received at the national level. The party or coalition that receives the most votes is automatically awarded 55 per cent of the seats. In the Senate, the distribution of seats is conducted on the basis of voter distribution in Italy's 20 regions. One of the major surprises of the election was that the centre-left coalition was way ahead in the polls but barely out-polled Silvio Berlusconi's coalition or the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo.
The coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi (the former prime minister who has been the subject of numerous trials and investigations) came within a whisker of winning the election. What separated the centre-left coalition from Berlusconi in the Chamber of Deputies was 1,25,000 votes out of the 34 million cast.
The new protest party (the Five Star Movement led by Beppe Grillo, a former comedian) almost beat the other two coalitions in terms of the popular vote and has, in the process, become a major player in the Italian political system. A year ago, the Five Star Movement was not even ready to contest parliamentary elections. This year, it became a major protagonist by collecting votes from a variety of discontented voters protesting the state of the economy, the corruption that had surfaced during the previous six months at the national and regional level, and the lack of employment prospects for the youth.
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