Politics in ‘crisis’ following historic election

ROME – Large electoral gains for the Five Star Movement and the League left Italian politics reeling on Monday, with Giovanni Orsini of Luiss University describing the vote as “a crisis of the political establishment” in comments to the foreign press in Rome.

 The Five Star Movement are set to become the largest party in Italy’s Parliament with over 30 percent of the vote. The anti-establishment party were particularly strong in the south, with some predicting that they might even win all 61 colleges in areas such as Sicily.

 Luigi Di Maio described M5S as “the pivot” of these elections. “M5S is the first party,” he noted, “we are the centre around which everyone will have to rotate.”

 But Beppe Grillo, the comedian who founded M5S sounded a cautionary note, calling Di Maio and his team “good guys” but asking them not “to make deals just now. Stay strong and don’t change.” 

 Support for the League also grew significantly, with projections placing their share at just over 17 percent of the vote. According to La7’s predictions the far-right party will be a mere 1.5 percent behind the PD, with Forza Italia falling surprisingly short at 14.1 percent of the vote.

 The League’s Matteo Salvini and Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi have been shadowboxing throughout the campaign over who would be the party to advance a prime-ministerial candidate for the right-wing coalition.

 However, the decisive result for the League puts Salvini in the driving seat, who reacted early on Monday morning by stating that “The Italians had decided.” He also dismissed the idea that the M5S would be the first port of call for President Sergio Mattarella in forming a new Italian government, saying that the “team of government is the centre-right.”

 Comparing the League and M5S, Professor Orsini stated that the former had a “very clear identity” of nationalism and calling for greater sovereignty. However, he believed that M5S remained more “complicated” since theirs is a “populism that denies the distinction between left and right and is an anti-establishment movement that is against the political elite.”

 This result, Professor Orsini believed, was “very interesting, very new and very worrying.” Asked to compare the result with similar populism in France, Professor Orsini said he believed that the “wave was stronger in Italy.”

 Amongst the political elites to have suffered was Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party fell short of expectations, garnering only around 14 percent of the vote.

 The aging Cavaliere suggested that he had been punished for not being able to stand as a candidate himself. However, Professor Orsini speculated that the vote could mean “the beginning of the end” for the 81-year-old leader who has dominated Italian politics for over twenty years. “For the electorate,” Orsini argued, “it seems like Salvini is the future and Berlusconi is the past.”

 The heaviest defeats, however, fell on the left of the political spectrum, with the Democratic Party slumping to less than 20 percent of the total vote. The result will pile the pressure on Matteo Renzi as party secretary, with reports emerging on Monday afternoon that he was set to resign.

 Likewise, questions will be asked of Pietro Grasso’s breakaway Liberi and Uguali (LeU) party, which split from the PD at the end of last year. Having polled consistently around the five percent mark throughout the campaign, LeU may only scrape into parliament with just over three percent of the vote.

 A similar story was recorded for Emma Bonino’s +Europa, one of the only parties to press an explicitly pro-European agenda. They look unlikely to meet the three percent minimum required to enter Parliament, though Bonino claimed her campaign had “connected” with many young people.    

 March 23 is the next milestone in the parliamentary calendar, when representatives will meet to elect presidents of both the Senate and the Chamber. According to La Stampa, M5S would look to cut a deal with the left of Italian politics before exploring other options.

 La Stampa’s editor, Maurizio Molinari, argued that “this vote redesigns the historic idea of right and left” and that “for the first time in Europe anti-system forces have won.”

 It remains to be seen, nonetheless, if Italy’s nascent populism can work its way to a parliamentary majority in the coming days and weeks, or whether Italy’s traditional political parties can find a deal that sees them return to power.