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  • Why the Election in Italy Is Making It Impossible to Forge a Government

    Learn about the election in Italy and how the debacle of no single party earning a majority of the vote is threatening the country's future
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    The recent election in Italy makes the United States' current politics seem tame.

    Let's start at the beginning of this soap opera. Italians voted for a new government March 4, 2018. This was the result of a previous election in which Italians ultimately voted to oust then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Actually, they voted against constitutional reforms, and Renzi had promised to resign if the people did not want the changes he was initiating. So, he lived up to his promise and left. His right arm, Paolo Gentiloni, took the post temporarily.

    In the meantime, populism spread through Europe. Italy was particularly vulnerable to this ideology, thanks to its poor economic situation. In addition, Italians have been taking the brunt of responsibility when it comes to Europe's refugee crisis. As a result, voters are weary of other European Union countries, who they feel are not doing their part. They also have serious concerns about immigrants who are risking their lives to cross into Italian waters or border.

    What Led to Populism Popularity

    As often happens, some people began blaming refugees and immigrants for their own economic troubles. This has been going on for a long time. The question of refugees is a complicated issue because there are limited resources and economic turbulence. However, these refugees are also human beings who deserve basic human rights. Nevertheless, many Italians were looking for outsiders, who would be fighting for Italian natives.

    Enter the 5-Star Movement. A comedian, Beppe Grillo, began blogging about politics some time ago. His writings and speeches launched this political party. Many publications around the world have described it as a populist group. In fact, the party is the result of grassroots efforts. Politically disaffected people, spurred by Grillo's words, began meeting with one another to discuss the issues of the day. Grillo and a web strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio organized them to form this political party.

    The Formation of a New Government

    In the months since Renzi stepped down and Donald Trump became the U.S. President, 5-Star candidates had shown unexpected progress in local elections. The media in and out of Italy took notice. Obviously, voters did, too. Now led by Luigi Di Maio, an unlikely political hero, the 5-Star Movement earned 32 percent of the vote in March. While that was not the majority, it did give the group enough leverage to dominate the negotiations about forming a government, which are going on now.

    The far-right League and the more traditional Forza Italia parties offered the biggest competition to the 5-Star Movement. Matteo Salvini is the leader of the League, and Silvio Berlusconi famously heads Forza Italia. Berlusconi, however, is banned from holding public office because he was convicted of tax fraud. Still, he holds weight. At 81, despite being declared a criminal and having the cloud of the Bunga Bunga scandal overhead, he isn't going anywhere. He remains a big part of Italy's political scene. 

    Stalemate Signals Trouble

    By forming a coalition, these two parties - the League and Forza Italia - snagged a combined 37 percent of the vote. This makes them the second biggest winner in the election. They remain allies with good reason. If they were to part ways, they would give up all control to the 5-Star leaders. PD, the left-leaning party formerly led by Renzi, came in third. None of the parties won enough seats in Parliament to govern alone. This means they have to come up with an agreement on how to govern and who shall be prime minister. 

    Not surprisingly, this is making for all sorts of drama. For starters, Italy is pretty useless in global politics at the moment. Rome has no say in big world issues, such as the conflict in Syria. And it is not at the table with its European allies, such as Germany and France. This is a particularly important time to find your voice because Great Britain is dealing with Brexit and Italy's place in the EU is in doubt in many ways. Of course, this political turmoil can't be helping the already suffering economy. 

    What's Next?

    Senate Leader Maria Elisabetta Casellati was given two days to come up with an agreement among the parties to form the government. She was unable to do so and Italy's President Sergio Mattarella decided on taking a time-out over the weekend. The 5-Star leaders proposed a German-style contract with PD that had the parties agreeing to support causes, such as helping the poor and cutting taxes, according to news reports such as the one in Politico. But it's hard to imagine PD supporting an alliance with 5-Star. Many believe the PD will sit out of this government and simply become the opposition. (Think "Resist" signs and protests in the streets.)

    Also, initially the League and Forza Italia seem opposed to cooperating with the 5-Star leaders. Over the weekend, however, questions arose about whether the two parties would remain a union. Berlusconi says they are still working together. But others believe the League may step away from Forza Italia because the 5-Star Movement wants to keep Berlusconi out of government and don't want him to be part of negotiations. 

    Now, we wait for Mattarella to make his next move in determining the fate of Italy and the world. This may be the worst kind of waiting game.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.


    Article Published 4/23/18

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