The conservative coalition of Silvio Berlusconi achieved solid and workable majorities in both houses of parliament in the general election of April 13-14. It did so even without the support of one of the key parties that was present in the centre-right's 2001-05 coalition, the Catholic and centrist-leaning UDC.
Winners and losers. Nationally, Berlusconi's coalition (including the Northern League) won about 47% in the race in both houses, against the centre-left's 38%. Berlusconi should have 168 seats in the 315-seat Senate (upper house). In the Chamber (lower house) he will have 340 seats; a majority of 50 seats over all other parties. If it remains intact, the new Party of Freedom (PdL) -- an alliance of Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Gianfranco Fini's Alleanza Nazionale, but excluding the Northern League) -- will be the largest single party. Walter Veltroni's centre-left Democratic Party (DP) is second, only a few percentage points behind in each race:
· Influential League. The much larger gap in the total vote for the two coalitions is mainly the result of the very powerful showing of the Northern League. It is aligned with Berlusconi, but ran as a separate party. It won 8% of seats in the Senate and 9% in the Chamber. Berlusconi is now, as in his previous governments, fully dependent on the League, which in the past has often proved volatile and unpredictable. In its Lombard heartland, it won 20% of the vote, and its presence now extends well into central Italy. It has effectively abandoned its former plans of northern secession from the rest of Italy, but it seeks a strongly federal state, with much greater fiscal and administrative devolution.
· Weakened UDC. The UDC, which split from Berlusconi's coalition after the 2006 general election, has vindicated its decision to run alone, but only just. Its breakaway has not, as its leader hoped, given it the pivotal role in the new parliament. It does not hold the balance, and indeed has all but disappeared from the Senate, where it won three seats in Sicily, but elsewhere was wiped out by the 4% threshold. In the Chamber it won 5.6%, but its 36 deputies will have little influence.
· Radical left disaster. The big loser was the radical left. Several minor parties -- the largest of which Rifondazione Comunista -- presented a joint list under the Rainbow Coalition banner. With only 3% of the vote (compared to 8% in 2006) it did not qualify for seats in either chamber. The leader of Rifondazione, Fausto Bertinotti, a powerful influence on the left, who brought down Romano Prodi's government in 1998, has taken responsibility for the defeat and will retire.
Rationalisation. The party landscape has seen a significant transformation. Both coalitions -- centre-right and centre-left -- have undergone some structural simplification, and on the face of it now have hegemonic parties at their heart. If the parties stay united, it will be difficult for their minor partners to cause as much difficulty for governments as in the past, though the idea of single-party government still seems some way off:
Centre-left. Even though the centre-left has emerged as loser, the reduction in the radical left to a fringe unrepresented in parliament could prove a major turning point for the left as a whole.
The architect of the rationalisation was Veltroni's DP, and he will claim to have been vindicated. The DP's vote share has increased since 2006, despite the poor showing of the Prodi coalition in office. Veltroni had rejected a coalition with any of the Rainbow Coalition parties. Yet even if the latter's votes had been included in the centre-left's tally for the purposes of seat allocation, the centre-right would still have won by a significant margin. Veltroni might have picked up some part of the radical left vote by this tactic, but despite spurning an alliance to the left, the DP won no extra votes from the centre.
There will now be deep recriminations across the centre-left and left. It is clear that the radical left is in deep if not terminal decline. In the long term, this will give the DP the chance to expand towards the centre. However, at nine points behind the centre-right, it faces a relatively long period in opposition. Moreover, the struggle to turn things around in the Sen