The Italian people wanted change, but they couldn’t agree on what kind of change they wanted. The results of the parliamentary elections which took place on Sunday will for sure shake the political landscape of the country, but it’s still unclear which direction they will lead it to.
The populist Five Star Movement is the party with most votes, about 32 percent for both parliament chambers. Another party that skyrocketed is the right-wing Northern League, led by Matteo Salvini, which got 17 percent of the votes and may be able to determine the future of Italy’s politics. Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party, which has ruled the country for the last five years, barely reached 19 percent of votes.
While the Movement’s result is overwhelmingly superior, it’s still not enough for it to form a coalition in the parliament and govern Italy on its own. Now, all eyes are on its 31-year-old leader, Luigi Di Maio, to see whether he will try and form a coalition with either the League or the Democratic Party.
“Trouble in sight” read the front page headline of Il Giornale. Il Mattino was also quite straightforward in its wording, defining the current situation a “brothel.” The mainstream papers were a little more tame; La Stampa wrote that the country is “ungovernable,” while the Sole 24 Ore called the Five Star Movement’s victory a “triumph.”
A vast majority of Italian voters went to the polls hoping to make a change. Faced with these numbers, the Democratic Party cannot deny it failed, disappointing too many citizens and turning them to a “protest vote.” Both the votes for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and those for the anti-European, anti-immigrant League were driven by discontent. While Italy enjoys a decent level of welfare, it was one of the members of the European Union that most struggled to recover from the economic crisis of 2008.
The results mark a significant shift in Italy’s political landscape over the last five years. In 2013, the last time the Italian people went to the polls, the League got just 4 percent of the votes. Now, emboldened by the waves of immigration and a transboundary anti-European sentiment, it has become one of the key players, overshadowing Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (14 percent of the votes in 2018). The political events that took place in other countries over the last two years, from Brexit to Donald Trump’s election, were also a consequence of dissatisfaction with the status-quo.
The link with Trump is not an exaggeration. The day before the elections, Steve Bannon told Corriere della Sera that this vote was “crucial” for the global populist movement. In the interview, he expressed his enthusiasm about the work of both the Five Star Movement and the League, and compared Berlusconi to Trump. If the Italian people elected a coalition among all the populist parties, he said, “it would be fantastic, it would pierce Brussels through the heart, it would terrify them.”
Today the map of Italy is fragmented, similarly to the one of the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. The South and the islands overwhelmingly supported the Five Star Movement, while the North chose the center-right coalition of Berlusconi and the League; somewhere in there, there is Milan, whose people resolutely supported the Democratic Party. Milan, now looking like a solitary island, is somewhat reminiscent of London in 2016, which voted to remain in the European Union while being surrounded by an anti-European landscape.
The country is split, and its leaders are unable to govern until they find a new alliance and reach unforeseen agreements. The forces that advocated for change during this campaign were too confused and confusing, too often destructive rather than proactive, too polarizing, to be able to voice the will of the Italian people as a whole.
Simone Somekh is a New York-based author and journalist. He’s lived and worked in Italy, Israel, and the United States.