Book Review: Presidentialization of Parties on …

Government and Opposition (by Marina Costa Lobo,  Instituto de Ciéncias Sociais, Lisbon)

government_and-oppositionIn January 2017 Donald Trump was inaugurated as the forty-fifth president of the United States. Trump’s ability to win the Republican Party nomination, against the will of the party grandees, went against the received political science wisdom, which placed party elites in charge of the choice of presidential candidates in the US (Cohen et al. 2009). His subsequent victory against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton further challenged the idea that the two parties controlled
access to American institutions. Trumpism is a clear sign of the decline of political parties as institutional gatekeepers and is symptomatic of the rise of the media-driven, outsider leader. Yet is this a specifically
American phenomenon, or has it spread to other countries?
In Italy, the rise of Silvio Berlusconi as leader of Forza Italia and the longest-serving prime minister of Italy is perhaps the closest parallel to Trump. Berlusconi was also an outsider – a media and construction billionaire – who stormed Italian politics. He was elected as MP in 1994 and went on to serve on three different occasions as
prime minister of Italy (1994–5, 2001–6 and 2009–11). Berlusconi, unlike Trump, created his own party, at a time when the party system in Italy was imploding (Bartolini et al. 2004) under the weight of tangentopoli. Despite being dogged by the judiciary for most of his mandates, he dominated politics in Italy for more than a decade.
Another Italian politician, Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement – M5S) is also a clear example of a mediatized personality, in this case using the internet to gain visibility. His party has been described as belonging to a personal party model (Diamanti 2014). He illustrates the importance that new
media may have in the process of the personalization of politics which has been recurrent in Italy. Founded in 2009, M5S won 25 per cent of the vote in the 2013 legislative elections and 109 seats in the Italian parliament, becoming the second largest party in Italy. The election of Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa as president of Portugal
can also be counted as one of the more recent cases of the extreme mediatization of politics. Despite not being the head of government, the president of Portugal holds important prerogatives both in terms of veto power and in relation to the dissolution of the Assembly, which can be crucial when governments are weak (Amorim Neto and
Lobo 2009). Although Rebelo de Sousa has been a centre-right party member for most of his active life, and was even leader of the Partido Social Democrata (PSD) between 1996 and 1999, Marcelo – as he is known to the Portuguese – became a household name from 2000 because of his weekly political commentary shown on open access television networks. Marcelo is, to a large extent, a product of the media, where he carefully crafted an image of a likable politician over the course of 15 years. In 2015 he decided to run for the presidency against the wishes of the PSD leader, Pedro Passos Coelho, who saw him as an outsider. He persevered nonetheless, running a campaign with little funding and winning the presidential election on the first round in January 2016 with 52 per cent of the vote. HERE THE FULL ARTICLE (pdf)

The Italian Constitutional Referendum

The Italian Constitutional Referendum: Political and Institutional Consequences of a Striking “NO”

my article on Fruits&Votes blog
The electoral results of the constitutional referendum have led to the Prime Minister’s resignation. But let us consider what happened before.

48_referendumOn December 4th 2016, Italian voters expressed their vote on a referendum about constitutional reforms. This was the third referendum of its kind in Italy, with the other two held in 2001 and 2006. The two options presented to voters this time were related to the approval or rejection of the reform promoted by Matteo Renzi’s government and his centre-left parliamentary majority. However, several Democratic Party’s MPs decided not to support Renzi’s position, and used the ballot as a tool to oppose their leader due to different visions of the party, the government, policies, and the reform itself. The reform was approved earlier by an absolute majority in both houses of parliament, but the proposed changes required a two-thirds majority in parliament in order to be implemented without a referendum according to the Italian Constitution (art. 138.3). Since this threshold was not met in parliament, the referendum was called (by the Government) by collecting the required number of voter signatures, as stated by the art. 138.2, while the opponents to the reform were not able in getting the minimum number of required signatures (500.000).

The result of the referendum was both clear and decisive. Approximately 60% of voters cast a “NO” vote in opposition to the proposed reforms and only 40% voted in favor. Perhaps the most striking result was voter turnout. Nearly 70% of eligible voters cast a vote, a percentage that is similar to that reached in general elections in Italy (e.g., 75% in 2013). This figure also confirms that Italy remains a democracy with one of the highest electoral participation rates in the world. Despite this high turnout figure, one of the most notable features of the referendum is the persistent North-South divide in terms of turnout and the level of rejection of the reform. Rejection of the referendum was particularly high in southern regions, with peaks in Sicily, Sardinia, and Campania. Support for the referendum was limited and prevailed in only two regions (i.e., Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna), as well as in the province of Bolzano. Continua a leggere