Just Like in Israel - Italy Is Waiting for a New Generation of Politicians

Citizens of both countries know there is no alternative to tough decisions for solving their fundamental problem, but when facing the ballot box most of them prefer parties opposing the solution.

It's very easy, perhaps too easy, to make comparisons between Italian politics and the Israeli political scene. Venerable parties that have long ago lost the faith of their voters, one prominent candidate distrusted by the international community but still attracting the votes of a large proportion of the electorate, as do politically inexperienced TV celebrity candidates.

And all this in an political system unfit for purpose. Since the election results came out this morning, you can add another shared feature - the citizens of both countries know there is no alternative to tough decisions for solving their fundamental problem, but when facing the ballot box most of them prefer parties opposing the solution.

When you combine Pierre Luigi Bersani's failure to achieve a workable majority in either of the houses of parliament, together with the defeat of departing prime minister Mario Monti, whose party only came fourth, the message is a total rejection of the Monti government's austerity and fiscal responsibility policies. While there is a political gulf between former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the comic and satirist "Beppe" Grillo, the majority of Italians voting for the two men were expressing their refusal to continue Monti's financial plan. Europe is looking on and asking why the Italians do it to themselves time and again.

Israelis are familiar with this kind of question from acquaintances abroad.

It's hard to call what Italians did this week a protest vote. They have been protesting now for two decades - ever since the Tangentopoli political corruption scandal which began in 1992 and swept the old political parties that had shared power since WWII, into political ignominy. Since then, the one dominating theme of Italian politics has been the rise, fall, rise and fall and now rise again of Berlusconi. The lack of charisma of the "technocrats" Monti and Bersani is a tempting explanation for their electoral failure and there is a lot of truth in that, but the disgust felt by Italian voters, including many younger ones, goes deeper than that.

An entire generation has been born, grown up and matured knowing only corrupt and hedonistic politicians. The scandals may have reached unimaginable heights with Berlusconi but he symbolized his period. It is hard to blame young Italians who voted for the policy-light comedian Grillo (next to whom Yair Lapid seems like a political wonk). They have been entirely let down by the preceding generation.

The editor of the Economist, a newspaper that has been on a crusade against Berlusconi for years, said after a visit to Israel that the political situation in Italy reminds him of Israel because here, too, successful businesspeople just want the government to stay out of it and let them work. Indeed, Italy has a remarkable business sector that does all it can to avoid politics and that is the root of much of Italy's tragedy, just as it is in Israel – the unwillingness of the best-qualified sections in society to share in the country's leadership.

Italy's hope rests on a changing of the guard that will sweep an entire generation of politicians, both colorful and monochrome, and their replacement by a new species capable of winning back the voters' trust. We can only hope that by the time this happens it won't be too late for the European and global economy.

Follow me on twitter @AnshelPfeffer
 

Reuters