Why elec­tion has left Italy in limbo I

Talian vot­ers de­liv­ered a sting­ing blow to their coun­try’s pro-Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal pow­ers, with more than half of the elec­torate back­ing pop­ulist, eu­roskep­tic par­ties in last Sun­day’s elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to near-fi­nal re­sults.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - WEEKLY EXPLAINER -

The re­sult could leave Italy with a hung Par­lia­ment, and dif­fi­cult coali­tion talks lie ahead for par­ties vy­ing to form the next gov­ern­ment.

Here are some of the main take­aways from the elec­tion and what to ex­pect in com­ing weeks as Italy tries to avoid a po­lit­i­cal stale­mate.

A 5-Star mo­ment

The 5-Star Move­ment, founded by an Ital­ian co­me­dian just nine years ago as an on­line-driven grass­roots re­volt against Italy’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, was the big­gest win­ner in Sun­day’s elec­tion, cap­tur­ing about one-third of the vote.

Ap­peal­ing to dis­il­lu­sioned vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly in Italy’s poorer south, the group com­bines a wide range of views that make it hard to place on a left-right spec­trum: It is pro-en­vi­ron­ment, anti-banks and skep­ti­cal of the Euro­pean Union.

The big ques­tion for the 5-Star Move­ment af­ter its strong re­sults is whether to stick to its pol­icy of not form­ing al­liances with other par­ties. Be­ing an out­sider is a core part of the move­ment’s iden­tity, but if 31-year-old leader Luigi Di Maio wants to be­come Italy’s next pre­mier he’s go­ing to have to seek sup­port from oth­ers.

No ma­jor­ity

Who ends up govern­ing Italy will de­pend on the suc­cess of coali­tion talks that could drag on for weeks or even months, since none of the par­ties or al­liances head­ing into the elec­tion will end up with a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment.

A cen­ter-right al­liance in­clud­ing for­mer Pre­mier Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni’s Forza Italia party will have the most seats af­ter win­ning 37 per­cent of the vote, com­pared to 23 per­cent for the govern­ing cen­ter-left bloc.

Be­fore the vote, an­a­lysts pre­dicted a grand coali­tion built around the cen­ter-left Democrats and Forza Italia. How­ever, that seems un­likely given the Democrats’ poor re­sult and the fact that Ber­lus­coni’s party was over­taken by its na­tion­al­ist and anti-mi­grant ally, the League, which jumped to 18 per­cent from just 4 per­cent in the last elec­tion in 2013.

A night­mare sce­nario for the EU would be a com­bi­na­tion of the 5-Star Move­ment and the League, which to­gether would com­mand a ma­jor­ity of seats in Par­lia­ment. Both par­ties have pre­vi­ously called for Italy to aban­don the euro cur­rency zone, though the 5-Star Move­ment dropped that de­mand in the run-up to the elec­tion and the League has pre­dicted that the sin­gle Euro­pean cur­rency will fail on its own.

The League’s can­di­date for pre­mier, Mat­teo Salvini, said clearly Mon­day that he would not form “a strange al­liance,” a clear ref­er­ence to the 5-Stars, but with tough talks ahead, po­si­tions could shift as op­tions nar­row.

What’s next

The newly elected Par­lia­ment will con­vene March 23. Af­ter that, Ital­ian Pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mattarella will con­sult with party lead­ers to fig­ure out which coali­tion al­ter­na­tive has the high­est chances of sur­viv­ing a con­fi­dence vote.

If no suc­cess­ful con­stel­la­tion of po­lit­i­cal groups emerges from those talks, the sil­ver-haired pres­i­dent could end up ap­point­ing a gov­ern­ment with the pri­mary task of chang­ing the com­plex elec­tion law that cre­ated this sce­nario, which would re­sign once that job is fin­ished. But that’s also a recipe for stalling re­forms and would raise the prospect of another elec­tion soon.

Euro­pean in­vestors seemed to have fac­tored in some un­cer­tainty af­ter the Ital­ian elec­tion and the out­come didn’t have a big im­pact on mar­kets Mon­day. But a pro­longed po­lit­i­cal stale­mate would be bad news for Italy’s econ­omy, which lags the rest of the eu­ro­zone and has a debt of over 130 per­cent of GDP.

Big losers

De­spite all the un­knowns, two cer­tain­ties emerged: Ber­lus­coni no longer com­mands the cen­ter-right, and the cen­ter-left has col­lapsed.

Ber­lus­coni’s Forza Italia, launched in 1994 when the bil­lion­aire me­dia mogul first en­tered pol­i­tics, was up­staged by its long­time ju­nior coali­tion part­ner, the League.

The take­away? “Ber­lus­coni is no longer in­dis­pens­able,” said Roberto D’Alimonte of Rome’s LUISS Univer­sity.

In essence, what two decades of le­gal woes and Bunga Bunga par­ties couldn’t achieve, Italy’s vot­ers have.

The other big looser was the Demo­cratic Party and in par­tic­u­lar its sec­re­tary, Mat­teo Renzi.

The Democrats didn’t even win in Emilio-Ro­ma­nia, a his­toric strong­hold.


Forza Italia party leader Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni ar­rives to cast his vote at a polling sta­tion in Mi­lan on March 4. Ber­lus­coni’s party was up­staged by long­time ju­nior part­ner, the League.

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