Analysis. In a country that wants to call itself democratic, stability and governability depend on the substance – and particularly on the cohesion – of the society that expresses itself in the institutions, far more than on their form.

In the crisis of the parties, splits and false solutions are inevitable

It has been clear to everyone for some time that a low-intensity war had been taking place in the M5S. The denouement was inevitable. The opportunity came in the Senate with the resolution on the war in Ukraine.

This was what finally led to a change. Not regarding weapons deliveries, but leading to the split of the party.

A particular line in Pierferdinando Casini’s speech, delivered on the Senate floor immediately after that of Prime Minister Draghi, probably aroused some nostalgia among the less young. It was when he recalled that in the good old days, the debate would customarily close with the words: “the Senate, having heard the government’s communications, approves them and proceeds to the daily agenda.” It was an accurate quote. It is only an apparent paradox that the Parliament back then, in which that rote formula was read out without needing any further addition, had far greater weight than the Parliament today, with its long, wordy resolutions. The core of the issue is the level of “extensive involvement” of Parliament in governmental decisions.

A parliamentary chamber has an importance that is measured by the political substance that is expressed in it. The floor debate is the final moment of a complex political process that takes place before the vote and outside the chamber. Whatever the outcome, it serves to make that process visible to the country. Those who take the floor do so not to convince the undecided, but to publicly represent a position, a choice, a project. And if this substance is missing, the importance of the institution collapses.

The crisis of parliamentary democracy, much discussed in Italy and elsewhere, is a crisis of parties. In the Italian version, it comes especially from the crisis of the major political party that came out of the 2018 vote, the M5S. It was probably written in the DNA of the Movement, the non-party that never had a real structured organization, a real leadership group or a real political project for the country. Clearly, to build these things it wasn’t enough to have decrees from above, rants on blogs or member referendums on online platforms on more or less vague questions.

This is precisely what allowed the Movement, which began as a catchall container for protest, to remain in the government coalition in three entirely different governments. But it couldn’t withstand the pressures of choices imposed by era-defining dramas, such as the war in Ukraine, or by events that are objectively far more modest in scope but just as decisive in practice, such as the two-term limit for parliamentarians.

What effects can we expect from the split? A government crisis seems unlikely at the moment. But the poison is slowly taking effect, and the scenario of Draghi being weakened by the M5S split may lead to a new mantra about governability/stability, with a call for strong governments elected by the legislature and proposals for institutional reforms.

The answer was, and is, that institutional engineering ultimately doesn’t help at all.

In a country that wants to call itself democratic, stability and governability depend on the substance – and particularly on the cohesion – of the society that expresses itself in the institutions, far more than on their form. And a society where large parts are waiting for answers that do not come is by definition unstable.

The latest French elections provide an example. Not surprisingly, one reads in the newspapers from across the Alps that France has become “Italianized.” A form of government thought of as hyper-presidential is now offering the prospect of cobbled-together governments and exhaustive post-election negotiations. Another example comes from the United States, where classical presidentialism has led to the radicalization and splitting of the society and the political system. That the person elected is supposed to be everyone’s president remains a dead letter (even if there are still some here who would like a “mayor of Italy”).

Another side effect is a higher likelihood that Draghi will take part in the next electoral contest, either himself or by proxy. After all, it was Draghi who was the catalyst for change: he has played that role for the M5S split, he could do so in the future for the Lega – perhaps not in terms of a split, but in terms of succeeding Salvini and restoring the original northern spirit. He could also be a pillar for the restructuring of the political center that some are calling for.

Some like Draghi, some don’t. Personally, I have always thought that the formally apolitical technocrat will develop a right wing orientation sooner or later. In any case, it’s useless to pretend that Draghi does not exist. Perhaps one could if he had been sent to the Presidency; but now he is very unlikely to disappear without a trace. And so the question is, what will the left do to make a mark and prove that it still exists and it’s still alive?

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!