At 6 p.m. local time Wednesday in Rome, while much of the world was transfixed on Washington, D.C., Italian reporters were huddled in a vast room of the nation's Parliament to witness another political crisis unfolding.
Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced that his minor party would pull out of the government, plunging Italian politics into deep uncertainty that may only be resolved with a new snap election. Pundits accused Renzi of acting for his cynical personal interest, trying to force out Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to make space for his own comeback to the center of the political stage. Others noted that the announcement baffled Italians, who had just heard the news that their country had recorded 507 new COVID-19 deaths that day, pushing the toll past 80,000. Some argued that the far-right would win if the country heads to the polls.
Still, with all the melodrama, this governmental "crisis' is largely politics-as-usual in Italy, which has had 72 different government coalitions in the 78 years of its wobbly post-War parliamentary system. But despite all the instability, democracy itself is not in question in Italy.
Renzi at a press conference to announce that his party would pull out of the government — Photo: Samantha Zucchi Insidefoto/Insidefoto via ZUMA Press
Of course the "crisis' underway across the Atlantic is of another tenor, and order of magnitude. Just minutes after Renzi's announcement, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump — for an unprecedented second time — after the Republican leader incited a mob to block the counting of his election defeat in Congress. Five people died in the violence, and Trump continues to falsely insist that the election was "stolen" from him. The American presidential system of government, typically noted for its stability, has shown what happens when a president is particularly power-hungry. And yes, just a week before President-elect Joe Biden is slated to be inaugurated, democracy itself is in question in the U.S.
Meanwhile in Uganda, voters are heading to the polls Thursday in the aftermath of one of the most divisive election campaigns in recent history, with at least 55 people killed in related violence. The incumbent, 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni, has been in power for 34 years. The leading opposition candidate, the 34-year-old pop star turned politician Bobi Wine, said that the army killed one of his bodyguards and that he has been detained and prevented from campaigning several times. The government has also shut down the internet and banned international election observers. In Uganda, democracy is constantly in question.
A celebrated Italian political theorist, Norberto Bobbio, once remarked that democracy is a process by which heads are not chopped, but counted. It's always a good reminder of how crucial it is to respect the counting.