What happened
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano dissolved parliament after Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s ruling center-left coalition lost a vote of confidence. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a 71-year-old billionaire media magnate, scuttled an attempt by Napolitano to broker an interim unity government that would reform Italy’s electoral laws, forcing elections in April. Berlusconi, a conservative, is leading in the polls. (The New York Times, free registration)
What the commentators said
Italians are excited about the election, said the London Times Online in an editorial. Unfortunately, “the election that has them excited is the U.S. presidential race.” Italians are dispirited and full of “ennui” about their own politicians. Prodi’s “spaghetti-bowl coalition” government “was in almost all respects a disaster.” At least Berlusconi—despite his “enormous wealth and his vulgarity"—achieved important labor and pension reforms, and convinced voters that he’s “a ‘straight talker’ who understands their concerns.”
Please! Berlusconi only understands his own concerns, said Ed Vulliamy in The New Zealand Herald. That’s why he “dabbled in politics” in the first place—to stop the government from breaking up his media empire. Italy is facing a crisis or two, with the mafia-led garbage strike in Naples and economic “malaise” that has dropped its economy behind Spain’s. But if Italians are looking for “a man for a crisis,” they shouldn't settle for a scandal-tainted tycoon.
There might be a silver lining to Berlusconi’s comeback, said Tony Barber in the Financial Times’ Brussels Blog. A new Berlusconi government will give the European Union an opening to break apart Mediaset, the crown jewel of his media empire. The EU last month ruled that Italy’s current media market is an anticompetitve “stitch-up between Mediaset and Rai,” the state-controlled broadcaster essentially run by whoever is prime minister. Italy’s center-left governments since the 1990s have tried, and failed, to reform Italy’s media laws to curb political meddling. But with Berlusconi in power, “his massive conflict of interest” could push the EU to show “Italians that, even if they cannot fix what is wrong in Italy, Europe can sometimes do it for them.”