Italy June 2011 referendum
June 13, 2011 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Italy's PM: can I privatize water supply, guarantee private investors a minimum 7% ROI on investments in water supply infrastructure, avoid showing up at scheduled court hearings and build a few nuclear plants, please? NO, you can't, answered nearly 30 million italians (95% of the voters, 57% of the people that held the right to vote) in the latest italian national referendum, whose final results are just about to be published (italian).

Italy has an history of asking its citizen to answer difficult questions by holding referendums; on the 2th of June 1946, the citizens visted the polls to answer the most crucial one: would you like Italy to be a Republic or to remain a constitutional Monarchy? 55% of the voters choosed Republic. The second referendum of May 1974 is considered by many as almost as important to Italians as the first one, as 59% of the voters (with a voter turnout of 87%) decided to retain their recently acquired right to divorce, thus parting with hundreds of years of tradition, in which marriage was a sacred, unbreakable vow. After a referendum held on 1993, italians steadily grew "tired" of referendums, mostly because many didn't believe anymore that the following Governments would have honored the will of the people, and the voter turnouts of the following referendums (with the exception of one of Constitutional relevance) gradually declined to a mere 24% turnout on the June 2009 referendum.

Hence, many wouldn't have given the last referendum of June 2011 a chance, as the PM and his supporting parties were against a popular consultation on these matters (as staunch supporters of privatization as an instrument of development) and asked their supported not to vote, hoping the referendum wouldn't have reached the needed quorum. This strategy apparenly has backfired, as 57% of the voters have decided to vote and, for the first time in the history of italian referendum, a staggering 94,6% of the voters have rejected (by voting yes) mandatory privatization of water supply management, plus a law that would have guaranteed that the price/tarif for water usage would have been set as high as needed to make sure that private investors had "an adequate remuneration" for their investments on water infrastructures, a law that would have allowed the construction of nuclear power plants in Italy (which was previously forbidden by a past referendum) and, last but not least, a law that would have allowed the PM, among other government/parliament key institutional members, to excuse their not showing up at scheduled court hearings with the preeminent need to take part to governmental activities (the so called legitimate impediment aka temporary criminal proceedings immunity.)
posted by elpapacito (22 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
So, are they still going to privatize it?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:56 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good luck Italy
posted by doobiedoo at 11:58 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Curious referendum format. It seems like opponents' best bet here was keeping voters home, which always encourages poor behavior.

So, are they still going to privatize it?

I don't think they have a choice now.

Needless to say, this is good news.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2011

Arguably the most cringe-worthy head of state alive today.
posted by Hickeystudio at 12:12 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

How is a guy like berlusconi not fictional? His wiki page has a damn spreadsheet documenting his criminal cases! he's a head of state! Hm...who's another frankenstein's monster of immorality elected to run a major nation...

Am I the only one who'd love a sitcom/reality show about berlusconi and putin hanging out?

Malta, for a Summit. They booked the same hotel. Berlusconi is high as a kite, shirtless and crying. The drugs made him realize he is old and fat. The foot of a woman who is probably young and dead is seen trailing out of the hotel bathroom. Putin strides into the hotel room. They had planned on water sports for the afternoon. Burlusconi wails incoherently, drawing Putin's attention to the corpse in the bathroom. Putin smiles and takes off his shirt, muttering firmly in Russian about 'the bear of the mountains.'
posted by serif at 12:16 PM on June 13, 2011 [19 favorites]

Yeah, I'm intrigued by the statistics going on here. Does the government party always run a "don't vote" campaign in these referenda? Is it just assumed that of the people who want the referendum passed are substantially more likely to vote than those who don't?
posted by roll truck roll at 12:17 PM on June 13, 2011

From the Economist: The man who screwed an entire country
posted by 7segment at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Can I have more than one like, please, for Serif's fantasy above? Also, can I have more please?
posted by imperium at 12:36 PM on June 13, 2011

Is it just assumed that of the people who want the referendum passed are substantially more likely to vote than those who don't?

No, it's just that the referendum is invalid if fewer than 51% of registered voters bother to vote. Since a significant percentage of registered voters will abstain anyway, those against the proposals being voted (the government, in this case) are more likely to win by abstaining (and aggregating their non-votes with those of the people too lazy or uninterested to vote to reach 49% of registered voters) than by voting against (and reaching more than 50% of votes on your own). This is particularly true if they are in the minority.

However, the trouble with this strategy is that, if it fails, it fails strepitously. Losing by 95% is more than slightly embarrassing, even more so if you are in government at the time.
posted by Skeptic at 12:54 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Silvio Berlusconi is the head of government, not the head of state. That latter position belongs to the president, Giorgio Napolitano, though like in some constitutional monarchies, it is (mostly) symbolic.

I love Berlusconi's pouty face in the photo accompanying the Reuters article.
posted by dhens at 12:55 PM on June 13, 2011

Does the government party always run a "don't vote" campaign in these referenda?
There are some precedents; when govt/opposing party doesn't want people to vote (and therefore reach a valid quorum) they suggest them to "go have a nice day out/ go to the beach" as referendums are usually held in June.
posted by elpapacito at 2:01 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating, elpapacito. Thank you for explaining it clearly for those of us who don't know anything about Italian electoral history, and very little about the recent referendum.

When a solid majority of the electorate votes, and those voters reject your proposal by 95%—that's a definitive and public smack-down. How do you think Berlusconi, et al., will respond?

And skeptic, thank you for "strepitously," which led me to "estrepitosamente," which is a very useful word.
posted by dogrose at 2:17 PM on June 13, 2011

dogrose: Berlusconi has "duly acknowledged" so far with this statement (translation mine):
The referendum high turnover shows the will of the citizens to participate in deciding our future, a fact that can not be ignored. It appears clearly, even to those who think the referendum isn't the most suitable instrument for facing complex question, that the will of the Italian people on all of themes of the consultation is clear. The Government and the Parliament now have the duty to welcome?/accept? completely the answers provided by the four referendums.
Consider the following: Berlusconi has always considered and publicly said that _he_ was elected by people (the chosen one), in what basically is a referendum pro/against him: he considered the regular elections to be all about him; and that's the "line" behind the cultlike adoration he suggest people feel for him; he also once said that he is the "anointed by God". There isn't a shred of a doubt that he is a populist leader, a smart communication expert, so there is also little doubt he took the last referendum personally, very much so, as a vote against him.

Consequently, he just can't dismiss the outcome of the referendum, lest he should appear inconsistent with his "living one man referendum" lines. Yet, the statement was phrased so as to be not entirely clear: the Parliament has the duty to "accogliere"...accogliere is an italian word that means "to receive", but it is also quite often interpreted as "to welcome" ....thus, he didn't actually say but that his Government has a duty to "reiceve"...and eventually, not to give a flying f**k about it; after all, he managed to say during a speech that the referendum on nuclear pplants is useless, yet no indication to vote/not vote would be given. And that he was not going to vote. If my memory serves, he never ever actually said "not to vote"..he has always suggested, so as to defend himself, as if in a court, that he never actually uttered these words.
posted by elpapacito at 3:17 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

As elpapacito self-correctingly notes, there was no explicit call by the government coalition not to vote, and indeed more than a few prominent members did so quite publicly. Sunday evening (so before the polls were even closed), Berlusconi, ever the able opportunist, actually pre-empted some of the backlash by commenting "Due to this popular vote we'll have to bid nuclear energy farewell, and we will need to direct our efforts to renewable energy sources."

As leftist leader Nichi Vendola remarked, though it's wrong to say this referendum targeted Berlusconi himself, it certainly did target "Berlusconism", the man's myth/legend-cum-mode of (anti-)political thought that has held the country in its spell for so many years now. Hot on the heels of the very recent local election defeats of the rightist coalition, the opportunity to have their own personal voices heard - more than specific concern about the issues in questions - is what seems to have motivated the general populace. Locally, the moment feels like a kind of glimmer of Egyptian spring, the first spark of which, under the slogans Adesso Basta! and Se non ora, quando? (Enough! and If not now, then when?), was seen at the Million-Woman gathering in February.
posted by progosk at 3:54 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, are they still going to privatize it?

The matter is quite technical: the ownership of the water itself will remain to the State (which anyhow couldn't have possibly sold the ownership), while the power to decide wether to assign the management to some private company, at what conditions and for what tarif should remain to the Municipality /ATO level, as opposed to a mandatory privatization of the ownership of the water services management companies that would have taken place without the referendum. There is evidence that a number of publicly (municipality) owned water companies are pretty much efficient and effective at doing their business, and evidence that some private companies are walking nightmares of mismanagement and run-and-flee attempts to grab as much value as possible and disapper; that, not only in Italy, but also in other countries (UK comes to mind).

The current status of the italian water service network is, actually, some mistery: the problem is that the evidence is spotty, has not been always systematically or at all collected and, while there is evidence that the network surely needs maintenace (possibily extraordinary one), but the estimates for needed works are quite unclear, hardly available but to the most determined researchers.
posted by elpapacito at 4:01 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

"...we will need to direct our efforts to renewable energy sources."

Actually, "we will need to strongly commit to renewable energy sources" is a closer translation.
posted by progosk at 4:06 PM on June 13, 2011

progosk: "Berlusconism", the man's myth/legend-cum-mode of (anti-)political thought that has held the country in its spell for so many years now.

Please expand on "Berlusconism." It seems that privatization of public services is one tenet. (Something like the Tea Party in the U.S.) What are Italians supposed to get out of it—lower taxes? better service? What are the other tenets of Berlusconism? And why was it so mesmerizing? What broke the spell? MeMail me if this is too much of a derail.

elpapacito: My whole life, I've needed to be close to fresh water, to just know it was there. Clean water is such a basic human need and the idea of turning it into a commodity in the market does not comfort me.
posted by dogrose at 4:25 PM on June 13, 2011

What are the other tenets of Berlusconism?

posted by acb at 4:36 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The format of the questions was fun. The questions were reasonably succinct for most of the questions, but the one about public services (Referendum 1) for some reason was a huge rollercoaster of a "question" (1 sentence, but spread over 5 lines!)
posted by Dub at 8:42 PM on June 13, 2011

What are the other tenets of Berlusconism?

"It begins with a pre-democratic idea: the cult of personality. It progresses through the use of public office for private purposes, whether through corruption or the protection of personal interests. It spreads through the use of patronage to reward followers and extend power, killing stone-dead the idea of meritocracy. It is founded, firmly, on a quasi-monopolistic control of a powerful business sector, commercial TV, and on the use of newspapers and political appointees in public broadcasting to disseminate propaganda and control the flow of information. It is expressed in the steady and deliberate erosion of other institutions of the state, notably the judiciary. It finds its basest expression in the exploitation and demeaning of women, and the undermining not only of moral standards but of any aspiration towards gender equality."
(Bill Emmott for L'Espresso - And then get rid of Berlusconismo...)

"In this counterfeiting of democracy, political debate loses any residual moorings in rational argumentation. ‘Facts’ no longer exist, no one is constrained any more by the bonds of logic. One can deny today what one affirmed yesterday, and in the course of a single talk show hold one opinion and its contrary. What counts is the capacity to shout down an opponent, to lie shamelessly, to present an arrogant façade, to land a vulgar insult at the right moment. The entire panoply of semantic and pragmatic fallacies stigmatized in treatises of rhetoric are now considered virtues. Unreasoning becomes second nature not only for the politician but also for the voter. Indeed, the voter, in face of the politician’s contempt for facts and logic, falls prey to the fascination of the ‘will to power’. Acclaimed rather than unmasked, this contempt overflows into a delusion of omnipotence for the politician, and a delight in submission for the ex-citizen."
(Paolo Flores d'Arcais for the New Left Review - The Anatomy of Berlusconismo)

See also Paddy Agnew's well-versed take on take on the phenomenon (and the political optential held by the PM's eldest daughter), and Natascha Floretti's How a Prime Minister Scaled Media and Politics.

(Sorry no satirical videos - it just doesn't feel like a joking matter anymore...)
posted by progosk at 10:29 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Silvio Berlusconi is the head of government, not the head of state. That latter position belongs to the president, Giorgio Napolitano, though like in some constitutional monarchies, it is (mostly) symbolic.

Interestingly, and largely in direct consequence of the lack of a charismatic opposition leader, Napolitano, as garantor of the institutions, is diffusely perceived to be one of Berlusconi's principal antagonists.

The general perception of the basic institutions of a modern democracy has been thoroughly blended/blandished, so that the lack of direction that finally seems to be exasperating Italians, to the point that at this first direct opportunity they have voiced it with cohesion that few dared to expect, is in fact rooted in a general loss of bearings. To see it optimistically, it's as though Berlusconi is being taken up on his penchant for changing the rules of the game, and, to their own surprise, Italian voters have discovered that the playing tables can actually be turned.
posted by progosk at 1:22 AM on June 14, 2011

Am I the only one who'd love a sitcom/reality show about berlusconi and putin hanging out?

Hanging out? No, but close.

Berlusconi should read up on how successful the Bolivians were at privatisizing water.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:39 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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