Towards A Two-Party System

Italy’s famous instability in government has been caused, in no small part, by the multiplicity of political parties competing for seats in the Parliament, as well as a Constitution that by design gives parties proportional representation based on their votes. In order to form a government, most political leaders there have been forced to incorporate the platforms of other parties into their own. But elections just wrapped up in Italy yesterday, and the results are remarkable. Silvio Berlusconi will be Prime Minister for a third time, and his new coalition of parties holds commanding leads in both houses of Italy’s Parliament. Remarkably, also, the race was largely between two broad coalitions of political parties, and thus more closely resembled an election in the United States than anything else.

Here, of course, we don’t have multiple political parties; the two large parties have incorporated interest groups within themselves as part of their coalitions. Italy is still a little bit more loose than that with its internal political alignments. But seeing great political success there may well motivate politicians to try this strategy again in future elections — it may well be better to be part of a larger, more powerful unit if you’re trying to get a specific policy enacted. That, of course, is what democratic politics is all about.

Berlusconi is not without his faults as a leader. He’s corrupt and imperious — and entirely willing to flaunt his use of power to benefit of himself and his friends. He’s also more focused on Italy’s northern industrial regions than on developing the more rural south. But in so doing, he’s also managed to ally himself with the Northern League, the separatist movement. While the Northern League gained in power this election, it may find that most of its policy goals have been triangulated into Berlusconi’s platform, and thus in the flower of victory may lie the seeds of the Northern League’s ultimate political demise — why secede from a country that is doing well? Rather, the Northern League is already adapting itself to remain politically relevant; many within its ranks no longer see secession of the Po Valley and surrounding regions as a viable goal but instead promote the idea of federalism within Italy, with regions being given greater autonomy. This is not unlike the “devolution” movement that has led to the re-establishment of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments in the UK.

I have to remember to suppress my own prejudices in reading news of this nature. I live in a country dominated by center-right thinkers and I am such a thinker myself. I live in a country where I can see a two-party federal democratic system working reasonably well, and it’s natural to think that such a system, if exported elsewhere, would produce similar results. This may not be true for all circumstances and when you consider entire nations, we need to remember that these are indeed complex things. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of how government should best be structured, or even the goal of creating a government in the first place. We are trying to create a government in Iraq, for instance, and it is far from clear that a system of government like that of the United States would be the sort of thing that either we or the Iraqis would find desirable.

But the thing of it is, the way we do things in America does work. There are problems — we face issues of partisan gridlock and oversimplification of complex issues; many are frustrated with the system of checks and balances impeding change or preventing corrections of changes they dislike to our policies. Perhaps we’ve allowed too much power to accrete in the hands of the executive over the past generation. Perhaps we are not as vigilant as we should be about protecting our individual rights against the government, so quick are some of us to identify with the government itself as the embodiment of good. But on the whole, federal democracy with a two-party system for debate does seem to work. On balance, our leaders make more or less centrist decisions on most major issues, reflecting the general consensus of the public. On balance, our welfare and our rights are protected. It’s easy to see other nations take steps towards being more like us in those respects as a positive step, and it’s easy to applaud them for it.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.