No matter where they are on the political spectrum, vendors at one of Rome’s most famous produce markets say the same thing – Italy is in trouble.
It has been nearly three weeks since federal elections resulted in a nearly equal split of support between three different parties, including an anti-establishment movement that both the centre-right and centre-left parties are wooing in their attempts to form a government.
On Saturday, the parliament managed to elect two center-left speakers for the upper and lower houses of parliament.
It means President Giorgio Napolitano can begin meeting party members tomorrow, offering one leader the mandate to form a government. Both the upper and lower houses need to give him a vote of confidence.
'There is a cancer in Italy now.'—Massimo Leonardo, vegetable vendor
"There is a cancer in Italy now – you know what a cancer is, right? The cancer is [Silvio] Berlusconi," says vegetable seller Massimo Leonardo at the Campo de’ Fiori market in Rome, referring to the country's former prime minister and the current leader of the centre-right coalition.
Leonardo points to his assistant, an elderly man who speaks no English but is listening intently as he arranges the vegetables.
"They [the older people] have been through it once and they’ll be OK. I’m worried about the young. There’s nothing for them. People don’t have money in their pockets, no way to make enough money to pay their taxes and bills, so things are really hard."
'The left... is creating this'
Across the piazza, flower seller Giuseppe Negosia agrees there’s a problem, but has a different take on who’s to blame.
"We’re in a bad situation. Italians are very patriotic people and we want to be proud of our country, but the conversation on the left is a disaster. It’s the left that is creating this," he says.
'Some are calling it a 'dream team' – a government coming from civil society.'—Eduardo Bressamelli, Luis University, Rome
The centre-left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, has a weak majority in parliament but not in the senate. He has vowed not to form a coalition with Berlusconi, whose centre-right alliance makes up the second-largest bloc.
Bersani’s only option, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by comic Beppe Grillo, says he won’t join any coalitions. Some of his members broke ranks Saturday to elect the speakers, something Grillo is describing as a "betrayal" of their ideals.
That division creates an opening Bersani must continue to exploit in order to form government, say political analysts.
"The left did some strategic maneuvering by having candidates that are not traditional politicians. One is a famous anti-mafia prosecutor and one is a former UN human rights official. It was hard for Grillo’s people to say no," says Eduardo Bressamelli, a political scientist at Luiss University in Rome.
"There is a divide in the party. With that, it’s interesting what could happen in the next few days."
A government 'from civil society'
If Bersani proposes a cabinet composed mainly of people from civil society rather than career politicians and bureaucrats, it may satisfy Grillo and his movement enough to win their support and form government.
"Some are calling it a 'dream team' – a government coming from civil society," Bressamelli says.
James Walston, a political scientist at the American University of Rome, says Bersani sent out an important message that his party is changing – something the Italian people have been demanding.
"On Friday, Bersani had a 20 per cent chance of forming government. Today, it’s 40 per cent," Walston says, adding there are some important constitutional and political deadlines to be met.
For example, unpopular measures like a property tax and the value-added tax increase will kick in automatically unless a government is formed that can change or repeal them.
Parliament must begin the process of electing a new president on April 15.
Economy hangs in the balance
The gridlock is also creating instability and uncertainty for Italy’s economy, the third-largest in the European Union. The country’s public debt is two trillion euros and growing, creating fears the bond markets could take fright, Walston says.
"Markets in the EU have taken into account what Italy is doing and as long as it doesn’t go on too long, it won’t be serious. I’m talking weeks, not months," he says.
Meanwhile, the outgoing government led by Mario Monti is acting as a caretaker government, keeping the country’s day-to-day business running but unable to enact any of the much-needed reforms.
Back in the Campo de' Fiori market, vendors have some advice for all the politicians.
"Everyone has to seek some sort of solution," florist Giuseppe Negosia says.
"They’ve got to get things settled. Sit down and figure this out," Massimo Leonardo adds. "I really hope nothing awful will happen, but I worry, because the [Italian]
people are desperate."