Back to the future in Rome with Berlusconi the biggest winner

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi casts his ballot during the third day of the presidential election in the lower house. Credit: Reuters

Remember those Italian elections? You know, the ones where that comedian guy did really well, and everyone thought Berlusconi was finished only to find that he wasn’t? Well they are still going on. Italy still does not have a new government. The bloke who had never been elected in the first place, Mario Monti, is STILL prime minister.

But they do have a new president. Well, not exactly new, because they have gone and re-elected the old one despite him planning his 88th birthday party in a few weeks time and repeatedly saying he did not want the job.

Over the weekend Georgio Napolitano has given up his plans for a quiet retirement and agreed to step into the breach again, because the rest of his country’s bickering politicians had singularly failed to agree on a candidate themselves.

It should be an easy job electing an Italian president: the electorate consists only of the country’s Parliamentarians, who must reach a 2/3rds majority behind one candidate. And if they cannot manage that, then after a while a 50% majority will do.

But this was still too much to ask, so they simply went back to the old one.

The man who "won" the elections all those weeks ago, Pier Luigi Bersani, has been so humiliated by what has been going on that he has not only failed to become prime minister, he has now resigned the leadership of his party as well.

So the centre-left is in chaos and leaderless, while the comedian Beppe Grillo and his Five Star movement are crowing that they were right all along: Italian politics really is a stitch-up between corrupt old men, and one of the oldest and most corrupt of them all, Silvio Berlusconi, is purring with contentment that, once again, reports of his (political) death have been greatly exaggerated.

Leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement Beppe Grillo. Credit: Reuters

His party now seems certain to be part of a ‘grand coalition’ government, even though Berlusconi himself will not be prime minister and may not even sit in the cabinet.

But his support is again indispensable to anyone trying to govern Italy, and that puts him in a very strong position in his on-going battle with the judges in Milan. They have already convicted him of tax fraud and illegal phone intercepts, and are still trying him on charges of paying for sex with an under-aged girl.

But don’t hold you breath for TV images of Silvio being carted off to jail, because it will not be happening soon.

Silvio Berlusconi is in a very strong position in his on-going battle with the judges in Milan. Credit: Vandeville Eric/ABACA/Press Association Images

The favourite to become prime minister - maybe as soon as tomorrow - is Giuliano Amato, a 74-year-old who has done the job twice before. This is what passes for fresh blood in Italian politics.

Tough economic reforms are likely to be shifted to the back-burner, with the emphasis on reforming the political system to prevent this sort of chaos happening again. But they have tried to do this several times before, only to find vested interests forming an immovable road-block.

Away from the corridors of power the anger only grows.

Beppe Grillo won more than a quarter of the vote at the elections back in February because people were so sick of seeing the same clique of old men rotating in and out of office in Rome.

Well now the clique is even older, and this may prove to be one rotation too far. There is every chance of new elections next year. The centre-left will almost certainly fight them under the leadership of the young and charismatic Mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, but even he may not be enough to prevent the ‘Grillinis’ completing the revolution they started this year.