The Italian Election and its Aftermath

Yesterday, the new Italian parliament met for the first time after the elections held in late February. The parliament was largely gridlocked with the three major parties unable to work with each other to form a government. The gridlock is a continuation of nearly two years of trouble for Italy after former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was cast out of government during the euro crisis. Berlusconi was replaced with an appointed technocratic government led by Mario Monti that implemented austerity measures to reduce the country’s sovereign debt, but the elections earlier this month have threatened to create a new crisis for Italy.

The 2013 election will most likely become one of the pivotal elections in Italian politics. There were four major contenders. Pier Luigi Bersani, who held various ministerial positions in previous governments, ran for the major center-left coalition while Silvio Berlusconi entered electoral politics again running for the center-right coalition. Besides the two major coalitions, Monti ran on the With Monti for Italy coalition which he founded in early 2013 advocating a continuation of the austerity measures, and former satirist Beppe Grillo ran on his Five Star Movement founded in 2009 advocating radical changes to remove the corruption rampant in the two major Italian coalitions.

Going into the election, it appeared that Bersani had a major lead over the scandal-ridden Berlusconi with about 35 percent in the final poll on February 8. However, in the following weeks running up to the election on February 24 and 25, Berlusconi and Grillo apparently surged. The final results showed Bersani and Berlusconi almost tied at 29 and 28 percent respectively in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Five Star Movement also performed much better than expected, with 25 percent in the Chamber of Deputies and 23 percent in the Senate. The way the electoral system in Italy works guaranteed Bersani’s coalition a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but there is no majority in the Senate, blocking an easy government formation.

By far, the biggest victor in the election is Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement. The M5S as it is abbreviated was only expected to receive 15 percent in the polls, but received approximately a quarter of the vote, primarily winning districts in Sicily, Sardinia, and central Italy. Beppe Grillo, who founded the M5S, is a former comedian and satirist who gained notoriety for blasting the government on the economic scandals in the country in the 1980s and 90s. In 2008, Grillo started a political blog and founded the party in 2009. Grillo and the M5S gained a large part of their electoral victory by campaigning through social media and looking to gain the younger vote. The M5S’s platform focuses on increasing the transparency of the Italian political system and a more direct democratic approach. With this platform, the Five Star Movement has shaken up the system, increasing the number of women in parliament and bringing younger faces into the legislature.

The deadlock in the Senate has made formation of a government seem impossible. In the weeks following the election, the three major coalitions have not gained any ground toward a solution. Berlusconi’s coalition has largely been sidelined by the other two forces. With Berlusconi currently facing trial for tax fraud and sex charges, any appearance of cooperation with his coalition would be anemic to support for the other parties. Meanwhile, Bersani has approached the Five Star Movement to create a formal alliance and at last form a government. The Five Star Movement is very much the power broker now. Because the movement ran as a single party and not a coalition, it is now the largest single party in the Italian Senate. However, Grillo has stated that the M5S will not be allying with either two major coalitions in any government formation. It would, however, informally support bills in parliament, but this does not help toward selecting a prime minister.

It is this situation of deadlock and non-governance that the Italian parliament found itself in when the Senate and Chamber of Deputies met for the first time yesterday. The delegates from the Five Star Movement, symbolically defying the traditional political spectrum, took their seats at the back of the chambers rather than on the left or right sides. The parliament continued its dysfunction in procedure, failing even to elect speakers in either the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies. If this deadlock continues and no majority coalition arises, there will be two options for the country. Either another appointed technocratic government will be installed or new elections will take place. Neither option seems palatable for Italy. New elections could damage the country’s economy even further as investors flee the country’s instability, and another appointed government would continue to undermine the people’s already broken faith in the political system. Either way, Italy’s woes are far from over.

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