Italy’s parliamentary elections ended on Sunday in what appears to be a hung parliament, a draw that could prevent the formation of a coalition government and thus to new elections.
Italian daily La Repubblica on Monday summarised the situation, saying, “The country is living in permanent instability, ungovernability is now an endemic disease”.
About half of the Italian electorate voted for parties that were only recently marginal protest groups led by maverick figures such as Beppe Grillo, the foul-mouthed former comedian and blogger, who in 2010 founded the Movimento 5 Stelle party or 5-Star Movement as it is known in English. Led by Luigi Di Maio, the populist 5-Star Movement came out as the main winner of Sunday’s poll, with roughly 31% of the votes. After the numbers were released, Di Maio announced that 5-Star will not form a coalition with other parties to form a government.
The other big winner to come out of Sunday’s election was the Milan-based Northern League (Lega Nord), whose far-right, ultranationalist, anti-immigrant, and Eurosceptic rhetoric appeared to touch a chord with many Italian voters. The Northern League overtook its ally Forza Italia – the centre-right populist party of 81-year-old, three-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi remains barred from running for office because of a tax-fraud conviction, but he is looking to play a key role in any future government having backed European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his nominee for prime minister.
Tajani will now have to battle coalition partner Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, for the leadership of the centre-right bloc and to be in a position to be nominated as Italy’s next prime minister.
The Northern League appeared to receive open support from US President Donald J. Trump‘s former chief ideologue, Steven Bannon, who was in Rome to offer his backing for a party that he sees as a key cog in his campaign to weaken political centrists.
Salvini is known for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and signed a co-operation deal with the Kremlin in March 2017. 5-Star has also called for a foreign policy shift away from Brussels and the Euro-Atlantic alliance and instead called for a lifting of the EU’s sanctions on Russia. Grillo has in the past praised Putin as a strong statesman, calling him “a blessing for mankind”.
The Northern League’s economics chief on Monday raised the possibility of an alliance with 5-Star, opening the door for a potential future Italian government that would be Eurosceptic and anti-NATO, likely to challenge EU budget restrictions and have little interested in further European integration.
A Northern League/5-Star coalition would be a boon for the Kremlin which has had to weather several election disappointments in Europe after its successes in 2016 when voters in the UK opted to leave the EU and American voters handed the White House to Donald Trump – both seen as major foreign policy wins for Putin.
Moscow has long hoped to gain a foothold in Rome after cultivating close ties with Italy’s once-powerful Communists under Palmiro Togliatti in the 1940s and the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) – a radical Marxist terror organisation that kidnapped and later assassinated Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978.
Final poll numbers are not due until later Monday and, with the centre-right coalition of Forza Italia and the Northern League on course for 37% of the vote and 5-Star with 31%, swift new elections to try to break the deadlock are another plausible scenario.
Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party crumbled under the stiff anti-establishment mood in the country, gaining only 20% of the votes – the party’s worst result since it was founded in 2007.
The Italian Parliament’s first post-election meeting will take place on March 23, though President Sergio Mattarella is not expected to open formal talks on forming a new government until early April.
If no party gains an overall majority, they may attempt to form further alliances, or new elections will be called.