Italian anti-establishment party seek to end the deadlock

By Luca Peluzzi

Italian elections left the country in a deadlock, where parties will struggle to form the new Government. The populist parties have gained huge supports while the traditional ones sank, due to their inabilities to respond to the voters biggest fears, unemployment and immigration. But at the moment no-one seems willing to accept compromises and form a coalition to bypass the hung parliament impasse.

Luigi Di Maio, the 31-year-old leader of the Five Star Movement, is the undisputed winner of the popular vote. With 32%, it swept aside the Democratic Party (PD), which failed to reach 19%. Di Maio announced the government team he has promised to present to President Sergio Mattarella before the election, even though in the Italian parliamentary system is the President who consults political leaders to seek a majority and form a government. This move, described by many analysts as a clever way to gain swing votes, signed the maturity of the Five Star Movement.

The populist party, started by Beppe Grillo, a popular comedian and blogger, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a web strategist, put aside its most controversial ideas (as leaving the single currency) to prove it could lead the still-weak country to a full economic recovery. Di Maio said: “We’re not available to betray the popular will. When the citizens voted for Five Star, they voted for a candidate for prime minister, a team and a program”. But to be able to govern the country he has to convince the far-right League or the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to form a coalition. No-one is understanding how he will succeed pushing his hard-line. “Everyone in Europe is asking me what is going to happen in Italy, my answer is: I don’t know”, was the honest response Italian finance minister Carlo Padoan’s gave to reporters last week.

The other big winner was the right-wing La Lega (the League). Although it polled slightly less than the PD, with over 17%, this was a huge increase on previous results and a great personal victory for its young leader Matteo Salvini. His Italy-first rhetoric and plans to deport thousands of immigrants have guaranteed Salvini the guide of the centre-right coalition. Even if no party or grouping reached the 40% necessary to form a stable parliamentary majority, the largest group achieving anything near this was the right-wing coalition formed by La Lega (the League), the Brothers of Italy (whose founding members belonged to the National Alliance, the successor of Italy’s Fascist party) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI), with 35%.

The economic issues were central in the election and in the anti-establishment parties victory. Four years of modest growth have not been nearly enough to repair the damage caused by a deep slump in 2008-09 and a second two-year recession in 2012-13. What the Democratic Party has done in the recent years did not convince Italians, especially the youngsters that are continuing to emigrate and that massively voted for the Five Star Movement. Five Star’s promise of a very generous guaranteed minimum income scheme won it support across the country, but particularly in the largely unemployed south. The League won most of its votes in the wealthier, more commercial north, which liked its pledges of a flat tax. Either measure would be incompatible with reducing or even stabilizing the monster Italian public debt, and they’re seen as incompatible when the two parties will try to form a government coalition.

Make no mistake, the election’s output was an earthquake in Italian politics, analogous to the so-called end of the First Republic. On 1992, the corruption scandal known as Tangentopoli swept away the old political parties that had ruled Italy since the beginning of the Republic, destroying the Christian Democrat party and sending the Socialist leader Bettino Craxi into exile. The political cataclysm brought to power the media mogul Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia political machine. Since then, FI and the increasingly centrist heirs to Italy’s Communist Party have ruled the “Second Republic”. The last election could have marked the end of another era: Forza Italia and the Democratic Party have never been so weak and disconnected with their voters, PD leader Matteo Renzi has resigned and the post-ideologic Five Star Movement became the biggest player. What has been called by many “the worst election campaign in Italy history” for the huge number of unattainable promises left the country in a disoriented standstill. Now no-one knows who will guide Italy out of this situation

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