Italy's Fractured Democracy

Photo source: The Nation

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

It has been an eventful election in Italy in March 2018. A hung parliament means that cutting deals to form a coalition government, has become pivotal, to end the political stalemate.

However, since March 4, 2018 a month has passed, but still, there have been a series of failed negotiations between the centre-right political parties. The Five Star Movement – M5S has emerged as the single largest party, having a populist message, whereas the League has gained ‘historic strides’ in the vote share this time around.

After the Italian election, many things have become clearer. The election reflects that a large number of Italians favour a Euroskeptic, and a strongly nationalist political base. Like the Brits and the Greeks, the Italians don’t have positive opinions of the European Union. This is a stark difference between them and the Germans and the French now, who loathe about the benefits of staying in the Eurozone.

Historically, Italy has been Europhile, with 80 per cent of people intending to stay in the Eurozone, but times seem to have changed. It shows that Italians are drifting. The result has ushered a new era in Italian politics which the regional political commentators call as ‘The Third Republic.’

Italians feel that the idea of the European Union hasn’t done much for them. Economists cite prevailing flaws in European common currency, and there is a dire need to address the monetary system. Maybe, these reasons reflect the fall of leftist coalition parties in Italy, that worked in the previous government.

A dramatic loss of Democratic Party, led by Matteo Renzi, has turned heads this time around. As usual, the Italians have been demanding a stronger economy, greater job prospects and an end to social crimes and corruption.

The Italian economy has been in tatters, just like the neighbouring Greece, that has been trying to survive on economic bailouts. In terms of fiscal competitiveness, Renzi couldn’t do much.

The Italian youth have made the highest figures of the unemployed. Maybe, it is due to these reasons of economic instability that has diverted the vote share of the Italian Left.

If we look at the political career of Renzi, he had been looked as one of the promising young political leaders in Europe, who had emerged from the Mediterranean. When he put forward a constitutional referendum in 2016, aimed to reform the composition and powers, a large number of Italians voted against it. Its impact on Renzi was such that he resigned as Italian prime minister in the next ninety minutes. It put the country into a caretaker government, until the present election.

Renzi’s intentions, by putting forward a constitutional referendum, was to change the balance of power between the central government and the regions. He wanted to make the Senate smaller, but more powerful, indirectly elected from regional and municipal councils and favoured abolishing of the consulting organ, National Economic and Labour Council, an entity of Italy’s corporatist past. But due to an unpromising circumstance, the higher voter turnout did not help Renzi in the referendum, as around 59 per cent of Italians rejected the referendum.

Maybe, a change in leadership is what the Italians wanted, and it had put immense hopes in the next election.

According to Foreign Policy Oped writer, Luigi Zingales: ‘there is some potential in Italy’s untested and young populist political leaders. If they play their cards right, they can transform the EU.’

Voting for centre-right political parties also reflects that Italians don’t prefer illegal immigration in their country. It is a collective mentality that Italians share along with Austrians and the Hungarians. An increase of illegal immigration through its vulnerable seashores in the south has kept the social fabric in disarray.

Not only because there has been a rise of attacks against the immigrants, but also due to the fact that there has been a significant increase in the functions of security and intelligence apparatus, especially against Muslims, who they believe are prone to radicalisation.

There is also a rise of fascist ideas in Italy. Parties such as Brothers of Italy claim to be descendants of Fascist Party which is banned by the Italian Constitution, whereas party members of Casa Pound, including its leader Simone di Stefano, have reportedly engaged in direct action through 'beach patrols,' where they have harassed and attacked immigrants working as vendors as well as non-Italians peddling on the public beaches.

Economically, European Central Bank intervened in the Italian case much later, and it reflected their incompetence. Also, if Italy, somehow, leaves the European Union, much of the money inside the Italian banks will flow out. That’s what the Italians don’t need right now. It is because, during an Euro exit, Italians would need liquidity assistance.

The largest political party, Five Star Movement (M5S), led by 31-year-old Luigi di Maio, neither calls itself a populist party nor a Euro-skeptic party. The party has gained public support due to the frustration they threw against its political opponents and promises of better welfare measures. In order to make a ‘government contract’ with the League, M5S leaders have to make certain compromises with League’s ally - Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, who they regard as a ‘corrupt old politician.’

Salvini has future plans to absorb Forza Italia voters in his party, and backing them down won't be in his game plans. Until now, any form of an alliance has been elusive.

The far right League made significant strides in this election for many reasons. After being accused of being xenophobic and propagating secessionist ideas of ‘Padanian Nationalism’, its rising leader Matteo Salvini, dropped 'Northern' from the party name because of his intents of fighting elections in the south. He himself ran for an election from the southern province of Calabria.


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