Monday, April 10, 2006

Your homework: simplify Italian politics

Yesterday morning I popped into a public school off Viale Trastevere, one of the local polling places in my neighborhood. Upon entering, I was greeted by a giant montage featuring the schoolkids' artwork. All the usual symbols were stapled into position. Construction paper hand imprints, a rainbow, a dove and the word "Pace" followed by the young artists' names: Francesca, Chiara and Orson. Poor kid. (Later, I could hear passersby murmuring "Ort-ZONE? Ort-ZONE?")

The art montage though was dwarfed by enormous sheets of wall-sized paper carrying voting instructions and the names and parties of every candidate running for the Italian Senate and House. At this particular polling point, there were 22 parties to choose from for the Senate and 17 for the House. (Across Italy, there are dozens more parties to choose from. For the full list, click here). In a nation of 60 million, and one as politically fractious as Italy, I could see maybe 10. But 22? Sitting in the hallway inches from Orson's handprint, I tried to work out how we might be able to simplify this ballot a little bit.

Help me out here... In most every country, you have your centrists and then parties to the right and left. Siete d'accordo? Let's call that a very charitable 3 (It's usually 2. Just center-right and center-left not center, right, left, but I'm being charitable this morning). Then verging further afield to the left, you have your socialists, communists, radicals and greens, bringing the total to 7. A similar jaunt to the right gives you any party with the words "National", "Christian" and "Lega Nord". Ok, carry the one, and you get 10. Anybody else? In Italy, of course. You forgot the party for pensioners and women and one oddball (you always need an oddball) called Forza Roma, which, as far as I can guess, runs on a platform to bring all Roma football matches back to free TV. That's 13. Who are the other 9?

Well, we have one running under the brand Fiamma Tricolore, another under Liberal Reformers, yet another under Rosa nel Pugno or "Rose in the Fist", a second rival party for pensioners (I am picturing angry wagging canes at the historic meeting that brought about an acrimonious split in the pensioners party, followed by an excruciatingly slow walk-out) and three brands of communists. You have multiple Christian Democrats (on the right and the left), a party for Mussolini's granddaughter and a party for Le Donne (the "chicks" party...They have my vote!). This brings our tally to 22.... (One day, little Orson with his oversized hand will get his own party. Take that, Chiara and Francesca! Those two, with their precise outlining and cutting skills, are definitely young Christian Democrats).

OK, now if this were a class of say second-graders, the teacher would surely say: "Now children, we cannot have 22 individual groups for our classroom excercise. We'd never accomplish anything. Here are the ground rules: every student who finds himself without a partner should team up with somebody. Find a partner who shares your interest in X (substitute here the words "favorite color", "desire to punch a boy/girl", "love of pasta pomodori", "suspicion of Orson") and work together."

That brings us down to 11, a nice workable number for a country of 60 million. I am willing to allow concessions here. I can't imagine anybody wanting to team up with Alessandra Mussolini (despite your shared desire to punch someone) and sadly it's unlikely the pensioners will ever see eye to eye again.

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