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Italy General Election - 04 March 2018

Italian President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament on 28 December 2017, paving the way for elections slated for March 4, 2018. The elections would mark the first of their kind under the new Rosatellum electoral law, which has been decried by M5S because it claimed the new law penalized single parties and encouraged coalition governments.

Under the new law, one-third of parliament would be elected under a first-past-the-post system, while two thirds would be voted in on a proportional basis. In order to enter parliament, single parties must receive three percent of the national vote while coalitions need to gather 10 percent. The Rosatellum electoral law ended a period of instability stemming from five different voting systems since 2013.

Elections must take place by May 2018, but the early dissolution of parliament is a recognition that Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni's government was crumbling. Analysts expressed concerns that the results will give way to a hung parliament and further erode political stability in Europe's fourth-largest economy. The base-case for the election outcome is a hung parliament. This means that Italy would likely enter a difficult phase post-vote as forming a governing majority would be complicated, if not impossible.

Gentiloni told reporters that Italy should be ready for political instability that the country could manage. "We mustn't dramatize the risk of instability, we are quite inoculated against it," he said, referring to Italy's history of short-lived governments and tumultuous politics.

Gentiloni's center-left Democratic Party (PD), led by ex-premier Matteo Renzi, looked set to get pounded in the election. Public support for the PD had dropped to 23 percent over the course of its five years leading government, during which there have been three PD premiers. The PD suffered from a split in 2017 after left-wing dissidents angry at Renzi rebelled to form the Free and Equals (LeU) party, which was polling at about 7 percent. Renzi struggled to reassert his authority over a Democratic Party worn down by five gruelling years in power.

Obscene comments and gestures have long been a trademark of Italys four-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has bounced back from political oblivion in recent months to recast himself as an unlikely contender in Italys March 4 general election. Despite a string of fraud and sex scandals, and a ban from public office, the 81-year-old tycoon is poised to play a prominent role in a future coalition government as his Forza Italia continued its steady rise in the polls.

A conservative alliance of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the anti-immigrant Northern League and Brothers of Italy combined stood to get the most votes. They were polling at 16, 13 and 5 percent, respectively. However, there were questions over whether the conservatives would be able to overcome internal differences, with the 81-year-old Berlusconi and Northern League leader Matteo Salvini both vying for the leadership.

The Italian political class on both the right and the left is now widely perceived as a failure. They are seen as has-beens, people who had their chance and blew it, and who are now almost ignored by the voters. Italy's floundering economy has only enforced that perception. The official unemployment rate that hovers around 11 percent; a perception of high taxes in exchange for poor services; and no sign of the kind of economic turnaround Spain and Ireland have pulled off have led many Italians to look around for someone to blame. After politicians and the EU, they've pointed their fingers at migrants.

Matteo Salvini, the brash leader of the far-right La Lega, formerly known as La Lega Nord (The Northern League), has relentlessly hammered home an anti-immigrant, "Italy First" message on his frequent TV appearances. Five years ago, La Lega took four percent of the vote; today, polls place it almost neck-and-neck with the right-wing coalition Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, at 14 percent. Even the Five Star movement is calling for the immediate repatriation of illegal immigrants, and like La Lega, they don't explain how they'll do this.

The Italian government on 21 February 2018 published its annual security report, warning that opinion-shaping campaigns are a major threat to the country's democracy, with less than two weeks until the general elections. Malicious actors could "exploit" liberal democracies through the "use of sophisticated techniques and considerable financial resources." The campaigns seek to introduce "destabilizing elements" into society by exacerbating political, economic and social divisions online.

A right-of-center alliance led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Forward Italy) party is set to win with 38.6 percent of the vote, according to a February 2018 poll conducted by Euromedia Research. The ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD) is expected to garner 22.1 percent of the vote, down from the 25.4 percent it managed to secure in the 2013 elections. Although the euroskeptic Five Star Movement (M5S) is expected to gain the most votes, new electoral regulations have undermined their hopes of leading the next government. M5S was expected to gain 26.8 percent, the highest of any individual party, according to the latest polls.

As in the last election in 2013, the anti-establishment mood is likely to favor the Five-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, while the continuing migrant crisis was playing into the hands of the hard-right, anti-EU Northern League. The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (MS5) had a lead with about 28 percent support, according to opinion polls. But it had ruled out taking part in a coalition government and was unlikely to win a majority. M5S' prime ministerial candidate was 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio. All of which points to a highly unpredictable contest, followed by a new round of horse-trading to cobble together a coalition government.

A third of Italians don't live in big cities or their suburbs, and the voters of small-town and rural Italy will be critical in shaping election results. Anti-migrant fervor has shaped campaigning in Campania, where the maverick, anti-establishment Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) co-opted the votes of the PD by feeding off local anger toward asylum-seekers and blaming the government of Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni for failing to come to grips with the influx and of finding ways to halt it.

One major issue has dominated the Italian electoral campaign: immigration. The debate ahead of the elections, the first national vote since 2013, has highlighted growing racial tensions. More than 600,000 people have arrived in this country from North Africa in the past five years and there has been growing discontent among the population over how the government has been dealing with the migrant emergency.

A right-wing alliance led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia took the lead in Italy's general election. Forza Italia, the far-right Northern League and Brothers of Italy together took about 37 percent of the vote, followed by the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement (M5S) with about 32 percent. Matteo Salvini's right-wing, anti-immigrant Northern League took 18 percent, surpassing Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, which took less than 14 percent.

The ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD) came in a distant third at 23 percent, leading leader Matteo Renzi to reportedly announce his resignation. Despite Berlusconi's alliance leading the polls as anticipated, it falls short of the 40 percent necessary to govern. If the final count results in a hung parliament, Italian President Sergio Mattarella would have to form the next government. Italy's 2013 election also resulted in a hung parliament, prompting then-President Giorgio Napolitano to handpick the next government. Analysts had speculated that Mattarella may choose outgoing Prime Minster Paolo Gentiloni of PD to lead a government if it comes down to it. Polls published before the election suggested Gentiloni was the most-liked Italian politician across party lines.

Nobody really anticipated that the League and the 5-Star Movement, bitter rivals during the election campaign, might suddenly come together in a coalition with a relatively stable parliamentary majority. Italian anti-establishment and far-right parties took a step closer to forming a government by publishing a joint policy program on 18 May 2018. More than two months of political deadlock looked to be nearing a close with the unveiling of the plan by the Five Star Movement and the far-right League party. The program promised the end of austerity in the eurozone's third largest economy and seeks deep change in relations with the European Union. The 58-page program contained no mention of a unilateral exit from the eurozone, mooted in previous versions leaked to media. The document featured a number of manifesto promises from the nationalist League. These included hardline immigration and security proposals, pension reform and a plan to have just two tax rates, of 15 and 20 percent. Both coalition parties want to put a stop to immigration from Africa to Italy, and aim to deport 500,000 migrants.

On 27 May 2018 the prime minister-designate gave up on his mandate to form a government after talks with the president over his Cabinet collapsed. Issues over the choice of economy minister appeared to have been the sticking point. Giuseppe Conte gave up the mandate to form a government, given to him on 12 May 2018. Initial reports suggested right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini refused to accept a presidential veto on his choice for economy minister, the 81-year-old euroskeptic economist Paolo Savona. President Sergio Mattarella is staunchly pro-Europe. Mattarella said he refused to approve Savona's appointment as that would have "alarmed markets and investors, Italians and foreigners."

While it is customary for Italian presidents to oversee government formation and to intervene to block a minister deemed unfit for the role, Mattarella's decision marks the first time that a veto is used because of a candidate's political views on the economy. It is to be noted that Mattarella had no qualms about accepting Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, as an interior minister, despite his calls for the deportation of up to half a million migrants and refugees and his racist views.

Italy's president set the country on a path back to fresh elections on 28 May 2018, appointing a former International Monetary Fund official as interim prime minister with the task of planning for snap polls and to pass the next budget. The decision to appoint Carlo Cottarelli to form a stopgap administration sets the stage for elections that are likely to be fought over Italy's role in the European Union and the euro zone, a prospect that was rattling global financial markets. The League and 5-Star, which had spent days drawing up a coalition pact aimed at ending a stalemate following inconclusive elections in March, responded with fury to Mattarella, accusing him of abusing his office.

Cottarelli told reporters after his appointment as interim prime minister that elections would be held in the autumn of 2018 or early in 2019. The chaotic developments have spooked investors, who fear another election will essentially be seen as a referendum on the country's future in the eurozone.

Cottarelli left the Quirinal Palace in Rome on late afternoon 29 May 2018 without making a statement. This opened speculation that Mattarella could dissolve parliament in the next few days and call elections for the end of July. The next day Cottarelli said that "new possibilities for the birth of a political government have emerged." An IPSOS poll in the Corriere della Sera newspaper on 30 May 2018, showed the League on 25 percent support, compared to around 17 percent in March. Support for M5S was steady at about 32.6 percent.

Anti-establishment parties in Rome revived coalition plans on 31 May 2018, ending three months of turmoil by announcing a government that promises to increase spending, challenge European Union fiscal rules and crack down on immigration. Giuseppe Conte is a 53-year-old jurist who has never been elected to parliament. Populist leaders Salvini and DiMaio will be joint deputy prime ministers. Italy had been without a government since elections on March 4 failed to produce a clear winner. The far-right Lega Nord (Northern League) and anti-establishment populists the Five Star Movement (M5S), despite being diametrically opposed on some issues, have been trying to cobble together a government after M5S was unable to do so with the Democratic Party (DP).

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Page last modified: 02-06-2018 18:32:50 ZULU