Italy faces political gridlock as voters back populist Five Star Movement

Widespread anger over poverty, unemployment and migrants hits Democratic Party

Luigi di Maio, leader of Italy's 5-star movement, cheered with delight as the second senate results projection flashed up on a screen showing his movement gaining 33.6 vote in Italy's general election. Video: Facebook/Luigi di Maio

 

After an election campaign dominated by immigration and economic uncertainty, Italy’s voters last night strongly backed the maverick populist Five Star Movement. Voters returned a hung parliament, and nearly one in three voters backed the anti-establishment party led by 31-year-old Luigi De Maio.

The party, which has no experience of government and to date has insisted that it will not ally with establishment parties, has established a firm lead over all other parties with over 32 per cent of the poll, up from 25 per cent last time, but still well shy of a majority on its own.

Mr Di Maoi described the result, which saw the party treble its representation, as “a triumph”.

“We are ready to talk with all the other political forces,” he said.

“Nobody will be able to govern without the Five Star Movement,” Riccardo Fraccaro, a Five Star MP, told party activists.

As the lengthy processing of coalition-building gets under way, the party’s newly pragmatic leader may now look for partners, but could find some unease among its own supporters for possible alliances on the far-right and others unwilling to do business. Projections this morning were giving Five Star and the populist Lega, formerly Lega Nord, a combined 48 per cent.

It is seen by foreign observers as the “nightmare” government option. Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini, however, ruled out what he called “weird alliances.” “The centre-right is the coalition that won and can govern.”

Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella, may, however, have no choice but to offer Five Star the right to first crack at forming a government. Parliament will meet for the first time on March 23rd and the president is not expected to open formal talks on forming a government until early April.

Early results suggest a hung parliament dominated by the Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant right, with voters delivering a bloody nose to the governing Democratic Party (PD). The party’s projected 19 per cent of the vote – half its previous vote — reflects the recent fate of much of the European centre-left, and its leader, former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who has already indicated his intention to resign.

‘Obliterated’

Francesco Galietti, an analyst in Rome, told the Guardian that “Renzi has been obliterated in what is perhaps the shortest boom-to-bust cycle of Italy’s political history.”

The centre-right and right-alliance had been expected to be involved in government formation but the alliance, ostensibly led by the politically revived 81-year-old Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, won about 37 per cent, barely exceeding Five Star’s vote.

And to complicate matters for Mr Berlusconi, Forza appears to have been passed out by ally Lega – 16 to 14 per cent . The alliance’s other component is the fascist party that represents the tradition of Mussolini, Brothers of Italy.

And the results also indicated that Sicily, a long-standing stronghold of Mr Berlusconi’s Forza, was definitively in the hands of Five Star.

Mr Salvini is likely to demand the right to lead any government of the alliance.

Mr Berlusconi, himself currently debarred from office, could well find that unacceptable, and commentators say he may be inclined to reach across to the PDs for a German-style grand coalition.

Whether the numbers will allow that is not clear – any governing coalition will certainly need significantly more than 40 per cent to govern. The PDs formed an election alliance with three centrist and center-left movements: Civica Popolare, Insieme (an alliance of the Green Party and the Socialists) and Più Europa (More Europe), the pro-Europe party headed by the Radical Party leader Emma Bonino.

The coalition is expected to end up with only 24–27 per cent of the vote. Ms Bonino made the parliament but her party did not break the 3 per cent threshold for seats.

Widespread anger

Despite overseeing a modest economic recovery, the ruling PD coalition came a distant third, hit by widespread anger over persistent poverty, high youth unemployment and an influx of more than 600,000 migrants over the past four years.

The range of permutations of government formation remains bewildering – but the possibility of a populist, Eurosceptic Five Star-Lega alliance is most alarming to governments watching closely in other European capitals.

Although both parties have retreated from commitments to a referendum on leaving the euro, both would be likely to prove allies of “awkward squad” member states led by Poland and Hungary in the European Council.

In the country’s brand new, and untested, electoral system, 232 members of the lower chamber, and 116 of the Senate, are elected in a local first-past-the-post race (and the rest — 386 seats in the lower chamber and 193 in the upper chamber.