Italy: Will New Elections Lead to Political Instability?

On 28 December 2017 Sergio Mattarella (born 1941), the Italian President, dissolved parliament and announced that new elections would take place on 4 March 2018. The elections will be contested under a new election law, instituted in October 2017, which will see 37% of seats elected by first past the post, 61% on proportional lists, and with 2% of seats being allocated to represent Italians living abroad. The proportional list has a 3% electoral threshold. The introduction of a first past the post constituency element  to the electoral system is likely to favour parties with established structures on the ground, such as the centre-left Democratic Party  (PD) and the traditional  parties of the right, over the Five Star Movement, with its emphasis on social media campaigning. The low electoral threshold for the proportional lists may also encourage political fragmentation, and the entry of smaller parties into the new parliament. A party or coalition needs 40% of the vote in order to secure an overall majority in parliament. Opinion polls show that currently none of the major parties or coalitions has sufficient support to achieve this goal.


The Five Star Movement: The populist Five Star Movement is currently the party with the highest level of support amongst voters. Opinion polls undertaken in early January 2018 put it on 28/29%. The five Star Movement’s Prime Ministerial nominee is Luigi Di Maio (born 1986), the Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies and former Five Star student leader. Real power within Five Star, however, resides with Beppe Grillo (born 1948), the party’s leader and founder. The Five Star Movement has been able to maintain a strong anti-establishment voter base in spite of the poor administrative record of some of its representatives in local government such as Virginia Raggi (born 1978), the Mayor of Rome, who is currently facing charges of making a false statement to an anti-corruption official.  The Five Star Movement has stated that if it emerged as the largest party it would seek to form a minority government, and avoid making coalition deals with other political parties. In recent weeks, however, the Five Star Movement has sought to row back on this previously firm commitment. It has also moderated its anti-Euro rhetoric in the run-up to the elections. The Five Star Movement may, however, prefer to stay in opposition and preserve its insurgent status.


The Democratic Party: Support for the centre-left Democratic Party currently stands at 23/24%.. The Democratic Party’ is led by Matteo Renzi (born 1975), who was previously Prime Minister from February 2014 to December 2016. Matteo Renzi resigned resigned as Prime Minister following his failure to secure victory in the Italian constitutional referendum. , He was replaced as Prime Minister by Paolo Gentloni (born 1954), the former Foreign Minister. In February 2017 the Democratic Party split with a left-wing element led by Enrico Rossi (born 1958) leaving to form the Democratic and Progressive Movement. In April  2017 Matteo Renzi was re-elected as leader of the Democratic Party. Although Renzi is back in control of the Democratic Party his reputation as a political reformer appears to have been. irreparably damaged. The Democratic Party’s campaign appears to lack impetus and momentum. Even with the possible support of smaller left-wing parties the Democratic Party is unlikely to be able to assemble a post-election parliament .


The Parties of the Right: The three main parties on the right of the Italian political spectrum, Forza Italia, the Northern League and Brothers of Italy, individually have lower levels of support than either the Five Star Movement or the Democratic Party. Acting as a bloc, however, these parties have the potential to form an election  winning coalition. An alliance of these parties made significant gains in local elections across Italy in June 2017 and in Sicily in November 2017. The largest of these parties, Forza Italia, is led by veteran politician Silvio Berlusconi (born 1936) who has been Prime Minister in four previous Italian governments. In the event of a victory by the right-wing parties Berlusconi would be prevented from becoming Prime Minister for a fifth time by a conviction in 2013 for tax fraud. Opinion polls currently put support for Forza Italia at 15/16%. The Northern League was founded in 1991 as a regionalist and autonomist party. More recently under the leadership of Matteo Salvini (born 1973)  the Northern League has sought to appeal to a wider national constituency on the basis of a euro-sceptic and anti-immigrant platform. Support for the Northern League currently stands at around 13%. The Brothers of Italy led by Giorgia Meloni (born 1977)  currently has around 5% popular support. Opinion polls conducted at the start of 2018 has appeared to show the right=wing parties campaign gaining momentum. On 16 january, however, Fortillo Fontana, a Northern League candidate for the Lombardy region, caused controversy when he spoke of the dangers posed by immigration into Italy to the ‘white race.’


Election Outlook: At this stage in the election campaign no political party or coalition has the level of support necessary to form a government. Opinion polls have in January 2018 shown an increase in support for the right-wing parties. It is unclear, however, whether they will be able to sustain this over the course of the election campaign, or whether differences will emerge between the parties. If at the end of campaign there is no overall winner Italy will face the prospect of a hung parliament and a period of political instability. Alternatively such a result may produce a grand coalition uniting the ideological rivals from the centre-left Democratic Party and the right-wing parties. Such a scenario might be regarded favourably by the Five Star Movement who would be able to continue to act as political outsiders opposed to establishment deal-making.


























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