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
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
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
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
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.