Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"You are killing the democracy"

Italian journalists Enrico Deaglio and Beppe Cremagnani made a film that managed to shake the very foundations of the Italian democracy by putting under question the legality of the 2006 parliamentary elections. The film, entitled “Uccidete la democrazia” (You are killing the democracy) makes an interesting and scandalous claim: it argues that a team of Mr. Berluconi’s close associates, acting on his express orders, rigged the 2006 elections.

The Italian governing centre-left coalition played down the importance of the film and the center-right, Mr. Berlusconi's coallition denied the allegations but welcomed a possible (now certain) recount.

The film is developing its story on the basis of electoral analysis but also on the basis of the claims of an anonymous source close to the Italian Minister of the Interior. According to the film Berluconi’s team used sophisticated software (allegedly bought and already used in the 2004 US Presidential elections in Ohio, see) to correct the electronic data arriving to the central computer in the Ministry of the Interior. Allegedly, it transformed many empty ballots (people refrain from voting for any candidate normally as a form of protest against the system), into votes for Berluconi’s party Forza Italia, but not manually but electronically. Thus, there is a possibility to double check the validity of these claims by recounting the totality of empty ballots. Apart from the testimony of the source of this film there are several other indications that, according to the authors, make their claims justifiable.

First the number of empty ballots significantly decreased from the elections in 2001 to the elections under scrutiny (2006). While in 2001 1.692.048 voters decided, so to speak, not to choose by placing empty ballots in the ballot box, in 2006 their number is significantly smaller 445.497. Not only that, but while in 2001 the number of empty ballots varied significantly from one to another Italian province (e.g. 2,6% in Tuscany, 9,9 in Calabria, 5,5 in Sardegna... in 2006 as if a strange centrifuge made Italy turn around producing almost identical percentage of empty ballots in all provinces, including the islands, from 1-2%). Moreover, the film considers strange coincidence the fact that before the elections The Minister of the Interior replaced numerous Prefects all over Italy. Bearing in mind that their offices were in charge of collecting and disseminating further the elections data this fact is not necessarily insignificant. Finally, the exit-polls predicted a much more convincing victory for the centre-left coalition, one that would have made possible a stable government for a full term in office. At present the coalition of the Italian PM Romano Prodi depends on a tight electoral majority often unable to undergo radical economic and social reforms it promised in its pre-election campaign.

An interesting and deeply troubling claim. However, the first logical question to ask is: If we accept the fact that Berluconi rigged the elections, why didn’t he make his coalition win? The film has an answer to this question, allegedly Berluconi’s Minister of the Interior Beppe Pisanu, an experienced Demo Christian politician, decided to stop the entire process preventing the victory of Berluconi’s coalition. Explanation as to why has he done so (the film is making a claim that he knew of the plan and participated in it from the very beginning) is far from clear.

I am personally not sure of this theory of conspiracy, it is indeed deeply illogical. The most illogical thing is the following: Why would Berluconi (and he did, see ) publicly contest the results of the elections, he himself allegedly tried to manipulate? Wouldn’t such behaviour be too risky?

All this leads me to another conclusion, urging me to question the reliability of the film’s source. It is more in Mr. Berluconi’s favour (who lost the elections) than in Mr. Prodi’s favour (who won them) to contest the electoral results, regardless of the tight electoral victory of the centre-left coalition. This is simply because it is difficult to imagine that a full recount of 40 million ballots would ever be conducted. In this way, the story of alleged electoral fraud, paradoxically, even if conducted by Berlusconi, casts a shade on the legitimacy of the current government.

Moreover, it can be argued that the actual recount might possibly directly favour Berlusconi’s coalition (if we were to imagine that the total recount would actually occur – Berlusconi is calling for this). Namely, in the lower house of the Italian parliament the centre-left coalition won by a margin of merely 25.000 votes. This, small lead, due to the majority premium, awarded them a comfortable majority in the lower house of the Italian parliament (The ruling coalition has a tight majority in the upper house – the Senate). Bearing in mind that on 40 million voters, the margin of error (the votes are in general counted manually), could easily be 25.000 it is entirely possible that a possible recount comes to the conclusion that it is in fact Berluconi’s coalition, not Prodi’s who won the elections in the lower house. In this case it is Berlusconi that would win the premium of majority in the lower house, which would certainly cause the current government’s demise before the expiration of the 4 years term. Having said this it is highly unlikely that the team of 30 parliamentarians in charge of reviewing the ballots would manage to conduct a recount in 4 years. As an Italian MEP Marco Rizzo said on a recent presentation of Deaglio’s film is Brussels, the time needed to conduct the counting of 40 million ballots, would be “biblical”.

Having this in mind, we could construct another theory of conspiracy (provided that the film is indeed such a theory)…this time with no proof whatsoever so I beg the reader to take it as an intellectual exercise, by no means a claim to what has actually happened. Having in mind the fact that Mr. Berlusconi unsuccessfully urged the government to recount the votes perpetually after the 2006 elections. What if Mr. Berlusconi thought of another strategy to get the government to fulfil his demands? What if, the source of the film was actually instructed by someone close to Mr. Berluconi to contact the journalists and make them question the legitimacy of the 2006 elections? This is not entirely illogical. The governing coalition pressured by the public opinion (out of which an important part its own voters) is now forced to organize a recount. Now the centre-right coalition got what they wanted, the Court ordered the legislature to recount the empty ballots in some Italian provinces, and there is a possibility that the legislators will have to, at the end, recount every single vote made at the 2006 elections.

1 comment:

Lorenzo Zucca said...

Very interesting Srdjan!
At the moment, Berlusconi appears as a winner of this contest. Few people are informed in Italy and by the way this issue has been presented in the media, it sounds and lookd like Berlusconi is infuriated against the government for having miscalculated the ballots.

It is a familiar strategy by now. Berlusconi attacks whatever happens. The actual issue is not important, what is important is that media depicts him as the one who is fighting against abuse.

It's a very intelligent strategy these days. People have no time to follow the news in their entirety. They want ready made news and Berlusconi is the Banana King of such a regime