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  • Italian Voters Lack Their Usual Oomph
    As the polls open, Italians show some concern about the possibility of change
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    APRIL 13, 2008 - Today Italians headed to the polls to finally choose a new government. Billionaire and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing off against former mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni. The air is thick - and the Italians, like most of the world, are sick and tired of politicians, government, bureaucracy, and economic turmoil. They want to know who is going to finally step in and start solving some of the big problems, but they're pretty convinced that no one is up to the task. Who can blame them?

    You should know a bit about Italians and politics. Italy has had more than 60 governments since World War II. The country once elected a porno star to parliament. And Italy is well known for its bureaucracy. (I should know because I'm currently gathering everything from a long-form birth certificate to a notarized affidavit proving I'm single - and translating it all from English to Italian - to marry legally in Italy in October.)

    Italians, in general, are really passionate - and observers see firsthand the levels of their passion in politics. In fact, voter turnout is usually high, and you'll often hear Italians debating the issues of the day in the piazze and bars across the country. However, The New York Times recently reported that experts predicted lower turnout for this election because skepticism and apathy among Italians has reached an all-time high.

    It's pretty simple to understand why the glass might look half empty to Italians. Many of them have felt slighted ever since the euro arrived. Prices and salaries were not adjusted properly in the wake of the euro's arrival, say many of my Italian friends and family. On top of that, the rising costs of food and gas is hitting Italy as it is the rest of the world. Add to that the domino effect of the United States' economic woes, and you can imagine how many Italians are struggling financially.

    In addition, the Italians were against the U.S. intervention in Iraq from the beginning of the effort. Many of them saw Berlusconi as too much of an ally to U.S. President George W. Bush. They can't wait to see a fresh-faced president with a totally new agenda and the desire to get out of Iraq. For now, however, the pressure of an unsettled world at war is too much weight for optimism to prevail.

    The last couple of years have been tough on Italians. They feel as though they are paying too many taxes, which is something Italians are not used to doing. And the trash piles mounting in Napoli put a spotlight on the troubles - and corruption - of southern Italy.

    I think the Italians might feel like everything is out of their hands, and nothing is ever going to change. There's a sense of hopelessness the world over, which is normal during an economic downturn. That might be why we end up seeing lower voter turnout in Italy this time around.

    Whatever happens, I know the Italians won't lose their passion. They're as likely to be debating the apathy as they would be the results of the election. Yes, they are conspiracy theorists who rarely trust authority, especially politicians. But they are also an intelligent people who get fired up about the issues. Eventually, they'll come around again. When they do, you can be sure politicians will be forced to pay attention - and respond. And 2.8 million Italians living abroad are permitted to vote, according to The New York Times, which means you may be among these passionate, politically engaged Italians. If you are, happy voting!

    Di Meglio is the guide to Newlyweds for About.com, where you'll find advice on everything from improving your sex life to filing joint tax returns. You can get more information on all things Italian at www.francescadimeglio.com.

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