One of the most intriguing aspects of last week's elections here in Italy - perhaps the only intriguing aspect - is that so far no one has cried Brogli! Broglio is the catch-all phrase for the dirty business that goes on around voting time pretty much everywhere these days, in one form of other, more or less subtly, from Zimbabwe to Florida. Italy, of course, has a rich and vibrant history in vote-buying, the altering of ballot papers, intimidation, illicit photography in the polling booth; the usual stuff. Two years ago, the centre-left's narrow victory produced hysterical accusations from the Buffoon, which only died away after a recount indicated that the margin was actually wider - not narrower - than it had seemed. This time, though, with the Buffoon's bum firmly on the armchair of power, not a peep of electoral ill-doing. It's almost as though Italy were Sweden.
Which is rather odd. Only days before the elections, Marcello Dell'Utri - the man who thinks Berlusconi's Mafioso stable-hand was a 'hero' because he didn't shop his boss - was outed as the senator who'd tried to buy 50,000 ex-pat votes in South America for the very reasonable sum of €200,000. Nobody seemed to care very much about this at the time, and no doubt Berlusconi will sort the problem out in his usual way, with a law exculpating senators whose first name begins with the letter 'M' from crimes involving sums of money below €200,001. What's interesting though is that votes are so cheap in South America.
According to journalists working for a programme called Exit on La Sette, the only national TV channel not controlled directly or indirectly by Berlusconi, a certain Raffaele Lombardo, the man who swept the board in the regional elections in Sicily, was distributing bags of shopping worth €50 each to voters - along with a facsimile of the ballot paper, with a nice big black cross on Lombardo's party. Oh yes, and a helping hand was frequently offered in the polling booths thenmselves, just in case the voters had nowhere to rest their groceries.
At the going rate in Sicily, 200,000 votes would have cost Dell'Utri the tidy sum of €10 million. It pays to shop abroad.