Italy election: gridlock a go-go

BY Olivia Utley | OliviaBUtley   /  5 March 2018

After a dramatic night in Italy, the results are in. And as predicted, they are a mess. Railing against falling GDP, mass youth unemployment, and a serious public debt problem, Italian voters – like American voters before them – have turned their backs on the centre in favour of right-wing and populist parties.

The right wing anti-immigration, anti-common currency “League” conquered broad swathes of Italy’s north, while Five Star – the populist anti-austerity party – saw its strongest show of support in the young, poorer south. The ruling centre left lost ground, with Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) securing only 18.9% of the vote. La Repubblica described its failure to win a fifth of the votes as a psychological blow. It is certainly a damning indictment of Renzi himself, the man who grabbed power without winning an election. He is resigning.

Forming a government may now take weeks of negotiation and coalition-building, and it’s not sure how the fractured political system will reform itself. Below are some options.

· Five Star Movement was the biggest party with almost a third of the vote, but its leader Di Maio did not win enough seats for a majority and is unwilling to form a partnership with a rival. This poses a serious problem, because under new Italian electoral law a party with so few seats can’t rule on its own.

· There’s a chance Di Maio may relent and try to form a coalition with Renzi’s Democratic Party – but there’s no knowing if Renzi would accept such a proposal. The leader of the Democratic Party is in a precarious position, and may feel that opposition is preferable to a partnership with a populist group mistrusted by PD’s core voters.

· The more likely option is a coalition of the right-wing parties. League – which dramatically increased its share of the vote – said prior to the election that it would consider a partnership with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, and the far-right Brothers of Italy. And it’s worth remembering that its leader, Salvini, has his eyes set on the premiership and will be prepared to compromise. For more, read here.

· On paper, this seems like quite a neat solution – the coalition still wouldn’t reach the 316 seats needed for a majority, but it could form a pretty strong minority government. In reality, it would almost definitely lead to infighting and yet more instability. While League is adamantly anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-common currency (Salvini called the Euro a “crime against humanity”), Forza Italy was the only party to run on an unapologetically pro EU platform. It’s hard to see quite how these two positions could be reconciled. For in-depth analysis, read here.

· The other option being touted by Italian pundits is a coalition between MS5 and League. Although Di Maio’s party with its anti-austerity rhetoric is on the left of the spectrum and League is on the right, the two have a lot in common. Both are populist, anti-establishment, and very critical of the European Union.

· Numbers-wise, this option makes the most sense (between them, the League and MS5 reach the 316 seats needed to form a government) and it would go down well with Italian voters if it was the two big winners of the night were the ones who led the country. But would Renzi and Berlusconi in the centre allow it? And could MS5 sell such a partnership to its young, southern voters? For more read this.

Coalition talks begin today, and will be led by the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella. Rather him than me.