Monday, 5 March 2018

What Happened in Italy's Election?

by Arianna Giovannini**

It is still too early to make a full assessment of the results from last night’s general election in Italy, but what is clear is that the country emerges from this election as profoundly divided.
There is a clear fault line between the centre-North, which is going to the centre-right coalition and the South, who voted en mass for the Five Star Movement. What unites these ‘two Italies’ is a support for anti-establishment forces. Turnout is in decline (around 73 per cent, against 75 per cent of 2013), but still quite high compared to other European countries.
The Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle – M5S) has emerged, as many anticipated, as the main single political force – gaining, according to the projected vote so far, around 31.5 and 32 percent in both chambers. This is well above expectations, and it is a monumental result for the Movement, which contested its first general election in 2013 achieving an already phenomenal 25 per cent of votes.
Yet M5S is still short of the majority needed to form a government (40 per cent) according to the new electoral law. The interesting point to note here is that for the first time the Movement is willing to go against its golden rule of intransigence against coalitions, and it has invited other political forces to seek a dialogue with them – although at their own terms and conditions. This could lead to a ‘coalition game’ that could be dangerous for the M5S.
So, what are M5S’s options? They could enter negotiations with Matteo Salvini’s Lega (14%) or with Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PArtito Democratic – PD), who achieved 19%. Either way, this could be damaging the M5S as it would force it to either develop an alliance with far-right forces such as the Lega (something that many of its supporters would not welcome) or to enter a pact with ‘the devil’, i.e. the party that embodies the establishment against which the M5S has fought since day one, the PD.
The centre-right is the coalition with the largest share of vote in the Senate and in the Chamber of Deputies (estimated at around 36 per cent). This was predictable – but what many commentators did not foresee was that the League led by Matteo Salvini would gain more support (above 18 per cent) than Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (nearly 14 per cent).
This is, again, a momentous result for the League – which went from 4 to 18 percent in 5 years. In its strongholds, such as Veneto in Italy’s north, the Lega is likely to gain up to 33 per cent – an unprecedented result.
In practical terms, this means that Berlusconi has been defeated and he won’t be the kingmaker of the next government. It also means that if the right wing coalition holds, Matteo Salvini would become the most likely candidate prime minister. What remains to be seen is what position Salvini will take. He’s faced with two choices: he could either stick to the right-wing coalition or break away and seek a dialogue with the M5S.
The clear loser of this election is centre-left. The PD led by former PM Matteo Renzi has been swept away. Renzi has managed to take the party from boom to bust in a matter of few years, and the PD is emerging from this election in ashes (estimated at around 19 per cent, and possibly the fourth political force in both chambers – the lowest result in the history of the party). Renzi’s day of reckoning seems to be looming, and if the PD was to enter coalition negotiations with the M5S it would almost certainly be under a new leader.  
Overall, no single political force or coalition is currently in a position to form a government. Thus, the next hours (and possibly days) will be crucial. If we stick to the maths, there are only two coalitions that could form a government: M5S and PD or a M5S, Lega and Brothers of Italy.
Neither of these would lead to an easy-to-manage and stable government, and internal and external turbulences would be most likely to emerge. The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella will soon have to chose who will form the next government – he could go for one of these two coalition options, or opt for a technocratic, transitional government of ‘national unity’ with a clear remit (e.g. review the electoral law).
Either way, we are at an important turning point in Italian politics: traditional parties on both sides of the political spectrum have been marginalised, and the new, anti-establishment forces are going, one way or another, to have a key role in the next government. Some commentators have already presented this as the birth of a ‘Third Republic’ under the banner of populism. Whether this accurate or too far fetched an argument will become clearer only in the next few days.

** This article was originally published on PSA Blog.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

How a new electoral law could shape the 2018 Italian elections

Italy’s new electoral law – used for the first time in this weekend’s election – could have a wide-ranging impact on the country’s politics
by Dario Quattromani**

By the end of Sunday 4th March Italian voters will discover a lot more about themselves than they have known for years, thanks to their brand new electoral law whose main target is to represent them in the new Parliament, rather than allowing the formation of a parliamentary majority to rule their country. This is the result of an historical process of 25 years of electoral reforms. This process started in 1993 with the majoritarian turn of the so-called ‘Mattarellum’; followed by the less appreciated ‘Porcellum’ in 2005 which was declared partially unconstitutional in 2014 and subsequently substituted by the so called ‘Italicum‘ (only valid for the Chamber of Deputies because it was tied to the (failed) constitutional reform of 2016; then finally, during 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled that this electoral law was partially conflicting with the Italian Constitution, and so in the last few months of the 17th legislature Italian MPs were focused on the production of a new electoral law before the scheduled 2018 general elections. 
Comparing past and present electoral systems
It is important to consider the circumstances under which Italian MPs reformed their national electoral system in 1993. A few months earlier many politicians of parties in government had been found guilty of being financed by private entrepreneurs in order to facilitate their affairs. Considering how this situation connected with the party-system, Italian public opinion called for a change to the electoral law, thus leading the Parliament to establish for the first-time-ever a mixed system characterized by 75% of plurality (first-past-the-post) and 25% of proportional representation to elect MPs in the following 1994, 1996 and 2001 general elections. 
As a result of this new electoral law, Italians experienced the growth of a bipolar political system, deciding to vote for either electoral coalitions mainly representing the centre-right and the centre-left of the political spectrum. When it became enough clear that the ‘Mattarellum’ was going to let the main opposition win the following 2006 elections, Berlusconi’s majority passed a new electoral law in 2005: the so called ‘Porcellum’, a proportional system with a majority bonus for the first party/coalition (at national level for the lower chamber, at regional level for the Senate) which was used in the 2006, 2008 and 2013 general elections. 
The main targets of the 17th legislature elected in February 2013 were a set of reforms to move the country on from the post-financial crisis period: although public expenditures and economic growth were at the top of the to-do-list most of the reformist activity was dedicated to the elaboration of a new electoral law, the ‘Italicum’, which was strictly connected with the constitutional reform proposed by the Prime Minister Renzi.
Once the Constitutional Referendum did not pass in 2016 a new electoral law needed to be prepared by the Parliament, since the two existing ones derived from sentences of the Constitutional Court on the ‘Porcellum’ (for the Senate) and the ‘Italicum’ (for the Chamber of Deputies). After a first attempt to pass a new law failed in June 2017 a fresh attempt after the summer saw both chambers approve (with 8 votes of confidence) the new ‘Rosatellum’ electoral law.

Main points of the Rosatellum – Effects on candidacies; interplay at the regional level; poll results
The new Italian electoral law, so called ‘Rosatellum’ because of the deputy (Ettore Rosato) who presented the draft law, is a mixed system (64% proportional – 36% majoritarian), incorporating the main requirements deriving from the two sentences of the Constitutional Court on the previous electoral laws.  This new law abandoned the idea of seeking to assure that a ruling majority could be formed, thus heading towards a representative aim; it harmonized the different electoral laws ruling the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies; and finally, it was the expression of the Italian Parliament.
One of the big electoral changes after 1992/1993 was the search for a governing majority, and this move back to proportional representation in the new law has not been appreciated enough nationwide.
Harmonizing both chambers’ electoral laws let the critics remind people that at the very beginning of Italian republic the two chambers were designed to have different electors, members and characteristics (although, most of these differences only lasted until 1953).
Although it was only approved with 8 votes of confidence by both chambers, allowing its critics to undermine the validity of the procedure, more parliamentarians voted for the Rosatellum than any other Italian electoral law.

The Rosatellum has a range of new features which are worth us considering:
Providing the return to the ‘power of coalitions’ (which the ‘Italicum’ abandoned), the Rosatellum has three main national thresholds for parties to participate in the distribution of seats in Parliament: 1) parties under 1% of the national vote do not have any representation; 2) those parties forming a coalition who receive a percentage of votes between 1% and 3%  add their results to the coalition, but without receiving seats; 3) coalitions that include at least one party who received more than 3%, have to reach 10% of the ballots in order to receive seats.
Candidacies for the national seats (618 for the lower Chamber, 309 for the Senate) are restricted to one per party in the single-member constituencies (116 for the Senate and 232 for the Chamber) and up to five in the multi-member constituencies. It is very interesting to analyze the criteria for the allocation of the seats, since it is straightforward that winners in the plurality do get that seat, but where this were not the case, they could gain election in a constituency where they received a lower number of votes.
One more restriction, is that voters are now not able to choose a party list while voting for candidates (gender equality being provided) of other political forces outside of the coalition: this is going to be an interesting point when observing, in the same day, how many votes will be cancelled in the two Italian regions voting with different rules (Lazio and Lombardia), since enduring habits are extremely hard to win.
Finally, it is relevant, for the reasons behind it and the effects that this measure will produce, to consider the introduction of an antifraud voting card. Its introduction is a recognition of the practice of selling votes and sends a message to those who relied on this to guarantee their results, yet it will probably slowdown electoral procedures, thus implying possible traffic and queueing at polling stations.

In summary, after all these points, a few questions could arise:

  • Due to the rules for allocation of the seats, which seats will candidates be elected for? Some solution that have been adopted can be read here;
  • What will the differences be for voting national and regional? A useful answer would come from some examples of coalition-making at both levels: whereas M5S (Five Star Movement) does not seek to make coalitions anywhere, centre-left and centre-right coalitions are not composed by the same parties (ex-PD members who gave birth to a new left movement – LeU -, are running alone in areas where the Democratic Party is likely to do badly – Parliament and Lombardia -, but they are running together in Lazio where the Democratic Party is set to do well), and this varies because of the level of administration (State/Region) and the geographical position (North-Centre/South);
  • With the target of the new law to represent Italians rather than assuring a majority to govern Italy for five years, what are the possible scenarios? While numbers during all the electoral campaign have been very stable at a macro level, observable variations could be found inside the coalitions, especially the centre-right, with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia acting as the frontrunner of its coalition, necessary for expressing his candidate for the Premiership, the actual President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani.

** This article was originally posted on the SPERI website as part of an IPSG blog series on the 2018 general election. Over the coming week more blogs will be posted which will be available to read here.

Friday, 2 March 2018

The politics of fear: how immigration is dominating the Italian election campaign

Growing popular concern about immigration could see the centre-right benefit in Sunday’s election
by Fabio Bordignon, Luigi Ceccarini and Ilvo Diamanti**

The politics of fear is once again affecting the Italian elections. After debates about fake news and the promise of very expensive, and for this reason unachievable, policies, shaped the first stage of the electoral campaign, the immigration issue has been at the heart of public discussion over these last few weeks (even though unemployment ranks as the highest issue of concern for voters).
It’s not the first time: other general elections in the recent past have been strongly characterised by the insecurity produced by immigration flows and the actions of the political entrepreneurs of fear: political actors who try to capitalise on xenophobic feelings to extend their support. But, in the case of the 2018 campaign, it’s more difficult to forecast the effects of these issues on the final result. Opinion polls have already showed some clues about this. But, a clearer frame will be sketched out by analysing the election outcome and performing post-electoral surveys.
The connection between immigration and security has been quite strong in the perceptions of Italian public opinion since the mid-nineties. A significant portion of Italians think that the presence of migrants poses a threat to public order and people’s safety. This perception is reinforced by official data which say that the proportion of immigrants – especially, illegal immigrants – amongst offenders is particularly high for specific crimes. According to data collected by Demos & Pi at the beginning of 2018, fear of ‘strangers’ is widespread in Italian society: 45% of interviewed people see immigrants as a threat to their security. If we analyse the complete time series, this index has reached comparable levels only two times before: between 1999 and 2001, and once again between 2007 and 2008. Both phases coincided with the run-up to a general election. Both campaigns were won by a centre-right coalition.
This issue has become, once again, a hot issue during the 2018 campaign as well. After reaching its highest peak at the end of 2007 – when one Italian out of two viewed people coming from other countries with suspicion – social apprehension about immigration had constantly declined until 2012. But it has reassumed an upward trend over the last five years, especially since 2016 (see Figure 1). The outbreak of the migrant and refugee crisis in 2015 saw the issue assume a central stage in public debate, especially regarding uncontrolled sea arrivals from Africa to Italian shores through the Mediterranean.

Figure 1: Percentage of Italians who view migrants as a threat for public order and Italians’ safety

Source: Demos&Pi Opinion Polls (1999-2018)

In the summer of 2017, there were clashes in the streets of Rome between the police and groups of refugees and asylum seekers protesting for having been removed from a building they had been squatting. Combined with other episodes of violence of which immigrants were the protagonists (or victims), and with fears connected with possible terrorist attacks, this event significantly increased the tensions around the theme of immigration, and further fuelled xenophobic and even racist sentiments.
In 2018 centre-right parties have once again promptly assumed their role as entrepreneurs of fear. This holds in particular for Matteo Salvini’s League, which openly reinforced its anti-immigration stance during the campaign, saying we need to stop an ‘invasion’ and put ‘Italians first’. Once a regionalist party, the League has been transformed by its new leader into a national(ist) euro-sceptic party, which takes the French Front National as a model. Among its voters, 69% see foreign people as a danger. The figure is equally high for their other centre-right allies: around 65-66% for both Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.
In addition, many far-right movements and parties, outside the official centre-right, are very active in Italy and have increased their activism (and public visibility) in the recent phase. The tension reached its highest peak in early February, only one month before the general elections, when a young man went on a drive-by shooting targeting black people in the small and historically rich town of Macerata, seat of an old university. A few days before, near the same city, a Nigerian immigrant was accused of having murdered a young girl whose body was found dismembered in two suitcases. What impresses about the events is that they happened in central Italy – in the Marche region – traditionally known as a peaceful and socially integrated area. The Macerata gunman, who had been candidate for the League in local elections, was arrested by the police wearing an Italian flag on his shoulders, making a fascist salute and saying ‘I’ve done what had to be done’. 11% of Italians, interviewed by Demos & Pi, said the man had done ‘what many would like to do’.
In the centre-right coalition, Silvio Berlusconi is trying to present himself as a moderate barrier against the many different versions of Italian populism. But after the Macerata events, the old leader has called for the expulsion of 600,000 illegal immigrants, describing immigration as a ‘social time bomb’. This statement can be interpreted as a defensive move against the internal challenge represented by Salvini, who claim the League will be the leading centre-right party, and he will be the next prime minister. The new electoral system has favoured the re-unification of a strongly divided centre-right and given Berlusconi the opportunity to ‘enter’ the field again after years in the background. Those parties have been able to build a coalition, which led the last polls published before the electoral blackout, at around 35-37%. It might not be enough to avoid a hung parliament scenario, but, if they are going to win, it will be crucial to check the actual balance inside the coalition to understand where the new majority would stand on an ideal moderate-radical political spectrum with regards to immigration as well as other policy issues.
It’s not easy to assess how this social climate will impact on the results on 4th March and to understand if the security syndrome is going to play the same role as in 2008. Since then the configuration of the main political blocs has somewhat changed. In particular, the governing centre-left seems to have changed – or, at least, redefined – its traditional pro-immigration outlook, which used to promote solidarity and integration and was always ready to deny the immigration-criminality equation. Its Interior Minister, Marco Minniti, has gained popularity in recent months through his measures to reduce arrivals of African migrants through the Mediterranean. While the Democratic party leader, Matteo Renzi, has even tried to ‘steal’ some of Salvini’s slogans, saying that immigrants should be helped ‘at home’ (i.e. in their countries).
Moreover, Italian politics, since 2013, has assumed a tri-polar format. And the Italian ‘third pole’, represented by the Five Star Movement, has always expressed a very ambiguous attitude on the immigration issue. Some of its leaders have not hesitated to express hard words on the theme of migration, using arguments and tones very similar to those used by the right. Even though these positions has often been ‘balanced’ with opposite views expressed by other Five Star representatives who stressed the exploitation of Africa territory and society by multinational companies. In accordance with this ambiguous stance, its supporters appear to be almost equally divided as regards its attitudes on the migration issue. During the 2018 campaign, Roberta Lombardi, the Movement’s candidate for the Regional elections in Lazio, declared her territory should ‘welcome more tourism, which helps local economy, and less immigrants, who weigh on the local economy’. ‘It’s not a question of left and right, but a question of common sense’, she added.
The Italian 2018 general election will help (among other things) to check whether, in a (supposedly) post-ideological era, the immigration issue still has definite political colour.

** This article was originally posted on the SPERI website as part of an IPSG blog series on the 2018 general election. Over the coming week more blogs will be posted which will be available to read here.