Italian Voters Opt for Anti-Establishment Parties

After the Italian parliament was dissolved by President Sergio Mattarella last December, a pivotal election for the country, and Europe as a whole, was set into motion. Italy’s general election, the first national election since 2013, was held on March 4. Voters were selecting over 900 members for the country’s two houses of parliament: the 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies and the 315 elective members of the Senate of the Republic for the 18th legislature of the Italian Republic since 1948.

According to the polls throughout the election, a hung parliament was probable. Election results confirmed the polls’ predictions. The centre-right alliance, in which Matteo Salvini’s League (Lega) emerged as the main political force, won a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Senate. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio secured the largest number of votes while the centre-left coalition led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came in third. As no political group won an outright majority, a hung parliament was declared. The two houses of parliament are equally powerful; that is, the approval of both is needed to form a government, for instance. Since no coalition has a majority in either house, deals must be struck if a new election is to be avoided.

For decades, two political forces have dominated Italian politics: Forza Italia and the centre-left (democratic party). Forza Italia is a fairly traditional centre-right party led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who is barred from office after being convicted of tax fraud. The centre-left party is led by former PM Matteo Renzi. Both suffered severe defeat in the March election. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) was the highest vote-getter of any single party with about 32% of the vote followed by the democratic (centre-left) party with almost 19%. In a close third was part of the centre-right alliance – Lega party, also known as Italy’s anti-immigration party who overtook Forza Italia making it the unexpected senior partner in the right-wing coalition. The centre-right alliance earned almost 36% of the vote.

As Italy and Europe digested the news that a majority of Italian voters had supported Euroskeptic candidates, both Di Maio’s M5S and Salvini’s centre-right alliance began campaigning for the right to form a majority government. As the Italian constitution gives the country’s president the power to give the mandate to any party, regardless of election results, the decision as to which party will form a majority government lies in the hands of President Sergio Mattarella. And Mattarella could take weeks to make that decision. Until then, Italians can surely expect a flood of media coverage of both parties vying for control.