The Italian cocktail

March 18, 2018

No party is in majority to form the government and no alliance capable of constituting the government in Italy after the recent elections

The Italian cocktail

The March 4 election was a much-awaited event in Italy, as it gives direction to the political winds sweeping across the country.

The fate of Democratic Party (PD) has been a subject of speculation since Matteo Renzi, the leader of the party, lost a gamble referendum on constitutional change in 2016. There was a widespread expectation that PD would get its comeuppance at the election. Also, the fortune of Renzi was tied to the electoral outcome of the March election.

Alongside this development, the rise and rise of the Five Star Movement also constituted an electoral curiosity. The movement, set up in 2009, by a comedian Beppe Grillo, has steadily advanced its electoral profile in national and local election. The party has tapped into the widespread anti-establishment grievances building up in Europe. The long bout of Euro-zone-related austerity measures has further exacerbated this sentiment.

The parties of the centre right advocate 23 pc flat rate of tax which is popular with the wealthy North but does not appeal to South where the average income is low.

The Five Star Movement shares some features of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in terms of its anti-elite, anti-politics and anti-corruption platform. The Five Star Movement also began with an anti-European platform. The party, however, has lately moderated its anti-EU stance. The two dominant parties of the right, Forza Italia and Lega were scrutinised for signs of resurgence.

In the run up to the election, Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi, was touted as the party set to make gains. Associated with this prediction was the fear of the return of Berlusconi, the media mogul, and controversial figure, to the centre stage of the Italian politics, despite his inability to hold public office.

The Lega, previously the Northern League, was also billed as the party expected to register surge on the back of anti-immigrant sentiments. The party, traditionally strong in the richer North, also shaved off Northern from its name to gain wider traction in the South. Moreover, the party also jettisoned its secessionist platform in favour of a nationalist one. The party is openly xenophobic and has close links with the European far-right parties.

The election result broadly confirmed the pre-election trends in opinion polls. The PD slumped to its worst ever performance with close to 19 per cent of the vote which is down 7 per cent from its previous general tally in 2013. Shocked by this unexpected defeat, the star of the party, Matteo Renzi, has resigned from his leadership position.

The centre right coalition was overall the winner of the election. It gathered 36 per cent of the vote. The Lega led by anti-immigrant, Matteo Salvini, increased its share of vote to 17 per cent from its previous 13 per cent while the Forza Italia could not live up to its pre-election billing, polling 14 per cent of the vote.

The smaller neo fascist party, part of the centre right alliance, Fratelli d’Italia, secured more than 4 per cent of the vote, again up 2 per cent.

Despite this impressive performance the centre right vote is well short of 40 per cent of vote required to govern the country according to the Italian law.

The widely predicted win for Forza Italia did not materlialise. The biggest winner was the Five Star Movement which collected 32 per cent of the vote. While Lega performed well in its northern stronghold, the Five Star Movement did well in the Southern region. North-south divide has been a constant in Italian politics.

The North has been historically rich fed by generous state funding over the year; the south has been poor and getting poorer. The poverty and unemployment in South has been made worse by austerity imposed in the wake of Eurozone crisis. Since the imposition of austerity, the South’s economy has drastically shrunk, leading to mass unemployment which is the highest at 18 per cent versus 6 per cent in the North, while youth unemployment has been the highest at 46 per cent in the South. Not surprisingly, the South has voted for the centre left parties which are more disposed to welfare policies favouring the poor.

Analysts say the Five Star Movement pledge to guarantee monthly minimum universal basic income of $960 for the poor was a major draw for the poor of the South. This is believed to have played a role in the Five Star’s incredible performance in South where it gained 76 out of 80 of its first-past-the-post system.

Overall, the election has confirmed the EU-wide trend of populist right wing gaining electoral ascendency. The other far right party, Lega, consolidated its gains in the North where it secured most of its votes. The party is xenophobic and its leader, Matteo Salvini, has made no secret of his desire to deport immigrants. The party also played on the economic distress that has been coursing through the country in recent years.

Despite this defining moment for the right and far right, the election result is inconclusive. No party is in a majority to form the government. No alliance capable of constituting the government can be formed without participation of the other groups. This puts Five Star Movement, with 32 per cent of vote’s share, in a pole position to form the next government. Yet the policies of parties will not align well to lend to the formation of the government.

The parties of the centre right advocate 23 per cent flat rate of tax which is popular with the wealthy North but does not appeal to South where the average income is low. This policy divergence does lend itself to alignment between right parties and Five Star Movement which has its voter base in South. However, politics of accommodation and unlikely alliance are possible. Omens tend towards the formation of a technocratic government too if no agreement on the shape of the government is finalised.

The Italian cocktail