(Il Sole 24 Ore – R. D’Alimonte) Minority governments are neither an anomaly nor a rarity. What Pier Luigi Bersani (invested with the responsibility to form a government by the president) is trying to do, as we speak, is quite common in several countries. In Denmark, for instance, these governments have been more frequent than majority ones.
Nor can we safely say that these governments are less efficient than others. Again we should learn from the Danish case. Italy, however, is a very different case. Minority governments are not born by chance. They are born and they live where the conditions are favorable.
One condition is the requirement of the confidence vote at the moment of the government’s installment. In Denmark, once the government is formed it does not need the confidence of the Parliament. It is simply assumed that it has it. It is only if opposition parties approve a nonconfidence motion that the government must resign. In Italy it does not work like that. Article 94 of the Constitution decrees that “within 10 days of its formation the government presents itself to both chambers of Parliament to obtain their confidence vote.”
This is the most relevant formal obstacle to the creation of a minority government in our country. In the House the obstacle can be avoided by abstention. In fact abstention votes are not tallied “against” the government.
Thus, those who abstain, implicitly vote “for” the government. But in the Senate it does not work that way. This is the chamber where the damages of a chaotic electoral system add up to those of a rigid parliamentary set of regulations. In this chamber, in fact, an abstention is equal to a vote against.
Here, in order to obtain a confidence vote it is not enough to have the majority of the valid ballots but rather that of the cast ones. Even here alchemies can be used to get around the hurdle, but in the current conditions those alchemies will not work. Hence, it is impossible for the Senate to approve a minority government. Even those opposition parties that would favor such a solution cannot make it happen. Their hands are tied.
In short, it is a mess, and a question thus arises: why on such a delicate point, in a symmetric two-chamber system, is the regulations of the two branches so different?
For various reasons, if a newly formed government does not need to obtain a confidence vote from the Parliament, the birth of a minority government is easier. In this case the opposition parties must take the initiative. It is not evident that parties of divergnt political colors are able to do so. Moreover, for an opposition party it is much simpler not to ask for nonconfidence than it is to actively vote in favor or to abstain.
In the first case it needs to do absolutely nothing, while in the second it must take a stand. And this is no small difference, as Bersani, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) has already experimented with the Five Star Movement (M5S). Without article 94, the possibility of the M5S giving a green light to a minority government would be higher. Would the M5S join the center-right People of Freedom (PDL) in a motion of nonconfidence against the government? In Sicily it did not happen.
Rules make a big difference, but they are not all there is to it. In order for a minority government to be born and to live, more is needed. There must be a fundamental agreement among all major parties on the fact that such a formula is the right solution. For the PD today, it is. Maybe it could be so also for the M5S, provided the obstacle of the initial confidence vote could be overcome. But it certainly is not for PDL.
Minority governments are based on the principle of mutual convenience. Such a government should suit those who form it but also those others who tolerate it. And what benefit would the PDL gain in letting a minority government be born when that government would look for consensus mostly among the M5S camp?
In Denmark, the minority governments that have worked best could lean alternatively on the different opposition parties in order to pass measures impossible to support with a large consensus. In Italy it would not work this way. The obstacle is the fundamental mistrust that separates the PD and the PDL.
After all, without this mistrust, what would stand in the way of a grand coalition government? The resigned yet realistic conclusion is that, regardless of article 94, we are not Hamlet’s homeland.