A taste of local politics

This year it is election time in my small Sicilian town.

I’ve never been one to follow politics on any level unless it has to do with a particular issue or social problem. I can never muster the energy to pursue it.

Yet, I am constantly surprised at how deeply political everyone is in Italy. Politics is everywhere, from the local government to the schools.

When I first moved to Italy nearly two decades ago, there were dozens of political parties. An old saying was that if two Italians met in a bar and had the same opinion, they would form a political party. The political climate of the early 2000’s certainly felt like that. Filling out a ballot at the polls, you would be given a meter long ballot paper with partly logos which ranged from hammers and scythes to doves and olive branches.

After some significant political reforms, many smaller parties were forced to either completely disappear or be absorbed by larger ones.

Italy’s political campaigns are always long and flamboyant, filled with television debates, speeches, promises, and rallies in the piazza.

Local Mayoral elections are pretty intense.

A person who becomes the Mayor of even a small town has the potential to make connections not only locally but also regionally. It is a great networking opportunity and can guarantee many opportunities for public works, construction projects and other lucrative perspectives.

But since we are talking about smaller towns (Sinagra has a population of 2,4000), the political situation is much more complicated. People are vying for the position of Mayor and those of local councillors. Often the votes are juggled and divided between family members. Candidates often will go from house to house looking for votes.

The candidates present themselves publicly through presentations on open-air stages in the centre of the local square. In fairness, every candidate is assigned a separate evening to deliver their political speech, filled with wild promises, boastful pretences and often stinging insults of the former Mayor and the other candidates.

I’ve never seen anything quite like a small-town political comizio which has speeches that go on for hours, a very vocal crowd and often a gearing opposition who comments loudly and often will debate what is being said. It’s like a big open-air argument, where people never flinch at expressing their opinions and often have to defend themselves. 

Things these days are pretty tame; my husband tells me that often in the 1970s and 80s, a political rally could have lasted all night long. The propaganda used to be a big deal, with flyers and political manifestos being prepared. At the same time, loudspeakers would blast out off the back of vehicles praising a particular party’s candidate.

The propaganda is less relevant these days, but many candidates have used social media to promote their candidates, a sign of the times.