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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 if his Forza Italia continues 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.

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 is 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.

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