Italians demand politicians share austerity pain
ROME (Reuters) - Italians, bearing the brunt of an austerity budget that will force them to pay more in tax and delay retirement, are demanding that the political class take its share of the pain by renouncing perks and privileges.
Ever since the budget was passed, newspapers and blogs have been full of complaints about parliamentarians' privileges, including free flights, subsidised lunches and haircuts and a swarm of drivers and police escorts some say are not needed.
"When they ask citizens to put one hand on their heart and the other in their wallets (to help cut costs), they don't understand that by refusing to make sacrifices themselves they risk dropping a spark into a tinder box," the leading newspaper Corriere della Sera said in an editorial on Monday.
Many Italians were irate to discover that of the 48 billion euros of cuts in the austerity package, only 7.7 million euros, or 0.016 percent, would apply to politicians.
Gian Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo, two Corriere reporters who wrote a best-selling book called "The Caste" about political waste, have been leading an almost daily campaign to reveal the excesses of Italian parliamentarians.
According to their investigations, barbers who give senators haircuts in the Senate make about 133,000 euros $188,100 (117,000 pounds) a year, which the authors say is more than some senior White House advisers make.
Italian parliamentarians get many free flights within Italy and some reports have accused some of them of accumulating mileage points and then converting them for use by their families for free flights.
The budget was rushed through last week in order to calm markets, and many of the unpopular cuts take effect immediately in an attempt to show government resolve.
POPULAR RAGE IN SOCIAL MEDIA
On Monday Corriere attacked parliamentarians for forcing ordinary Italians to bear the brunt of higher costs for the national health service immediately while delaying indefinitely an increase in the cost of their own special health insurance.
Complaints about the high cost of Italian politics and the privileges of the elite spread quickly from mainstream newspapers to social media and back to the front pages.
A Facebook page by an anonymous man who claims to have worked as a parliamentary aide for 15 years before his temporary contract was not renewed was an instant hit at the weekend.
The page, called "The Secrets of the Caste at Parliament," received more than 150,000 visitors in little more than 24 hours after it went live on Saturday and was the topic of many front pages on Monday.
In it, the former employee used photos of official documents to detail the discounts parliamentarians get when they buy a new car (up to 20 per cent) or on bills for their cell phones.
Several newspapers dubbed the anonymous man, who calls himself Spider Truman, "the new Assange," a reference to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Spurred on by social media, several grass-roots groups, one calling itself "the indignant ones," have called for spontaneous demonstrations in front of parliament.
"(The government) can't ask citizens, particularly low and middle income earners, to make heavy economic sacrifices without chipping away at the privileges of parliamentarians," La Repubblica newspaper said.
In a curious twist, Roberto Formigoni, president of the Lombardy region, went on television on Sunday night as the indignation spread on the internet and called for cuts in parliamentary perks and privileges.
But the attempt backfired and he was subjected to a barrage of criticism in the media because he made his appeal while standing in front of a row of yachts while vacationing in Porto Cervo, the most exclusive and expensive port in Sardinia.
(Editing by Tim Pearce)
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