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Opinion

Making sense of Italy's elections

Federiga Bindi / Mar 2018

Photo: Shutterstock

 

In 1993, Sergio Mattarella – the current President of Italy – was a Christian Democrat member of the Italian Parliament. The Christian Democrats – Popular Party, had been the king-makers of the Italian Republic since its inception in 1947, but they were collapsing under the debris of Fall of the Berlin Wall, and of the blocked political system that had allowed them to be in power for so long.

The party thought a new electoral law could solve the problem and keep them in power – thus forgetting that a similar maneuvering in the 1950s, with the so-calle Legge Truffa, had had disastrous results. The new electoral law – called Mattarellum from its main promoter – contributed to their end. At the time, Matteo Renzi, the current leader of the Democratic Party, was starting to move its first political steps in Florence, with a failed attempt to become the regional secretary of the youth of the Christian Democrats – Popular Party. He was there, the night of the electoral defeat. Yet, he thought he knew better and, last autumn, he contributed to a new electoral law – named the Rosatellum – that had one objective: keep the 5 Stars Movement out of government and force anyone wishing to govern Italy to form a grand coalition, which was of course thought to be led by himself and Berlusconi. Both leaders are, however, dead men walking, politically speaking. So, what are the main takes from the Italian elections and what is the prospective?

  1. The voters turn-out was much higher than expected – contradicting all polls on it – and just a couple of points below 2013 (72.92% vs 75.94%).
  2. The prime beneficiary of the high turn-out was the Five Stars Movement which came out as the strongest party in Italy, with 32% of the votes.
  3. The centre-right coalition did win as expected, the largest share of votes (37%), but it is Matteo Salvini’s Northern League which will lead it, with a share of 17%, not Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (14%). Berlusconi’s inability to find a political successor was crucial in the defeat.
  4. Sicily – once again changed colour – following a pattern of vote prizing whoever promises the moon - in the given case the so-called “reddito di cittadinanza” a sort of salary that anyone ought to receive independently from working or not, promised by the 5SM.
  5. Matteo Renzi managed to have himself and his “Magic Circle” in Parliament, but otherwise destroyed what was left of the Democratic Party, with an historical low of 19%. He is expected to resign, but he may as well not.

What now? No party of coalition has enough votes to form a government on its own, a major headache for the Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who now has to formally appoint someone giving him/her the task of forming a government and – most importantly – to find enough votes in Parliament to support it. Going by the numbers, Mattarella should entrust either Northern League’s leader Matteo Salvini with the task. However, the centre-right does not have enough votes to support a government and a centre-right – centre-left would be political suicide. Which does not mean it will not happen – possibly with a “government of the President”, but Italy has had seven years of government of the President – the first one being the Mario Monti one in 2011, appointed by then President Giorgio Napolitano - and that is exactly what brought Italy to yesterday’s vote.

What Mattarella is likely to try to avoid at all costs is a Lega North - Five Star Movement coalition. Number-wise, it would work. Content-wise, they two parties share a protest against the status quo, as well a fairly negative view of the European Union, but little else. Plus, very little government experience, and to know what that means, suffice to look at Washington today. Yet, for the first time since the 1940s there will be no Washington telling Italy to choose wisely. And failing to take into account the call for change coming from the Italian people, it would be an even riskier choice in the mid-term, especially taking into consideration that a re-vote may eventually soon happen if no government majority is found.

Federiga Bindi

Federiga Bindi

March 2018

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