A Letter from Berlusconi

Thomas Jones

One of Mario Monti's least popular reforms among Italian property owners is the introduction of a new property-based council tax (IMU) to replace the one that Silvio Berlusconi scrapped in 2008. On Wednesday, everyone on the electoral register was sent a letter with 'Avviso Importante: Rimborso IMU 2012’ printed on the envelope. The two closely printed sides of A4 inside explained how people could get last year's council tax refunded, either by bank transfer or in person at the post office. The letter was signed by Berlusconi: all people have to do to qualify for the rebate is vote for him in next week's elections. But not everyone read that far; apparently hopeful queues formed at post offices within hours. They'd have done better to mob Mediaset's headquarters.

Monti obviously wouldn't stoop to such tactics: instead he's been muttering darkly about Angela Merkel not wanting the centre-left Partito Democratico in power (Merkel says she never said any such thing). The PD meanwhile, narrowly ahead in the polls, has promised to get rid of prescription charges, another of Monti's austerity measures.

Yesterday Roberto Saviano wrote a piece in l'Espresso about voters across the country being offered benefits in kind in exchange for their votes (it's only a crime if you pay cash): a €50 mobile phone top-up, a washing machine or dishwasher, a pair of trainers, a bank loan, tickets to a football game, pasta, a temp job.

The most likely outcome from Sunday and Monday's vote is a hung parliament, and more horsetrading.


  • 23 February 2013 at 8:30pm
    Rikkeh says:
    Given that Italy reportedly has a secret ballot system, how is the transaction enforced? Do those doing the bribes accompany the voter, do they sit at the polling station?

    Presumably there is something in place to stop voters from signing up to everyone's "vote for me" offer and then doing as they please in the voting booth. Investments must be protected, after all.

    • 25 February 2013 at 1:33pm
      FoolCount says: @ Rikkeh
      Obviously, as rich as Berlusconi is, even he would find it problematic to refund everybody's tax out of his own pocket. That letter was an electoral promise to retroactively abolish the tax and to refund the money it already collected, if elected into power, of course. Clearly, the promise applied to everyone, not just those who voted for his party. The form of that promise may have been a little unorthodox, but in substance it was no different than almost any other compaign promise.

  • 24 February 2013 at 10:51am
    bluecat says:
    In the old days they used the "Lista" system. Parties would put up a list of candidates (ten or twelve from the larger parties) in each constituency, and voters would select three. Unsuccessful candidates' votes would be transferred to whichever of the party nominees got the largest vote, usually the person on the top of the list, but it mean that the parties could keep a tally of approximately who voted and whether they voted as instructed.

    If, say, I give ten people a job in my factory, they and their families must vote not only for the party, but also in the combination 4, 7 and 12 on the party list. People who got a job in the Liceo down the road have to vote, say, for 5, 6 and 11 on the same list. All these votes are eventually going to elect candidate number one (my uncle, as it happens), but in the mean time the party operatives, who do the counting, can check we got the right number of votes in the right combinations.

    Because there were an awful lot of possible combinations, it could get down to within a few people, and because people mainly don't talk about this kind of thing (for a start it means you didn't get your job on your own merits) you're unlikely to compare notes with colleagues to find out just how big a group is supposed to vote your combination: it might be only you in your constituency!

    This system collapsed in the mid 1990s when the Mafia signalled its loss of confidence in the government by assassinating some important figures, the government started arresting Mafiosi, the voting system was changed, and the old certainties and old parties disappeared into mist. There was a short moment of what looked remarkably like democracy.

    I was living in Naples, large chunks of which had been covered with scaffolding since the earthquake of 1980, when suddenly the town council started doing what it was supposed to do. Rusty corrugated iron came off the fountains in Piazza Plebiscito and Neapolitans were walking around in a daze at what a beautiful city they were suddenly living in.

    But there was uncertainty in politics, and that is bad for some kinds of business. Out of the uncertainty, like a grinning crocodile rising from a swamp, came Berlusconi. His party didn't seem to exist: instead there was a pyramid selling organisation, in which a number of young people I knew found employment. Votefixing, at least offering bribes to the electorate at large on the lines of "vote for me and I'll give you a rebate" seems to have survived.

  • 24 February 2013 at 8:35pm
    arandomreader says:
    Once in the voting booth you snap a picture of your bulletin with your mobile phone. Outside the polling station you show it to your handler to prove you voted correctly.

  • 4 March 2013 at 2:01pm
    Userdafi says:
    You brits really need to let go of the empire.

    I'm Italian.

    I'm a citizen, not a slave. My vote is not for sale.

    I voted in a school.

    I voted freely (for Mr. Grillo).

    I wan't offered anything by anybody

    I definitely was NOT paid and i had no fuc***g "handler" to show anything to.

    Saviano was talking about the south.