Establishment fatigue struck in full force as establishment parties got snubbed
The Democratic Party was decimated, following a pattern of center-left defeats across Europe
Five Star became the country’s strongest single party, overcoming criticism for poor management in Rome
Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord is now a force to be reckoned with, overtaking Silvio Berlusconi’s party within the right-wing coalition
The election was inconclusive, as no single party or coalition received the necessary votes to get a majority in the Chamber of Deputies
Italian voters loudly voiced their discontent on March 4, propelling populist and far-right forces to the top of the polls. The center-left suffered its worse score since 1992; the Democratic Party (PD) received just over 1 more percent of the vote than Lega Nord (18.7 and 17.5 percent respectively). Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) also disappointed pollsters, as the leader’s comeback bid seems to have served more as a stepping stone for Lega Nord than for his own party. While PD and FI both underperformed, Five Star beat expectations with over 32 percent of the vote, proving the success of its anti-system campaign led by the young Luigi Di Maio, who took over for ex-comedian Beppe Grillo.
Five Star benefitted from popular resentment due to a sluggish economic recovery (youth unemployment stood at 32.7 percent at the end of 2017, while the debt-to-GDP ratio remained at 130 percent), while Lega Nord capitalized on rising anti-immigrant sentiment after over 600,000 migrants have made their way to Italy in the past four years.
Voting patterns divided the country almost in half, with the northern half supporting the right-wing coalition (except Tuscany and Trentino, both PD bastions) and the southern half supporting Five Star. Voter fatigue has also grown: though turnout was at almost 73 percent, it has slowly been falling in the past twenty years, pointing to increasing voter disillusion in politics.
In addition to divisions in voting patterns and a decreasing turnout, the election did not yield a clear majority in parliament due to a complex electoral law, the Rosatellum. Parties now face weeks of political wrangling as they will have to form bigger coalitions to govern, and options are limited as the right-wing coalition only received 37 percent of the vote (shy of the approximate 40 percent necessary for a majority of seats). President Sergio Mattarella, in charge of handing out mandates for government formation, will have to balance popular will with his preference for stability as markets and investors already show signs of worry at the prospect of a populist government, or a Five Star-Lega Nord coalition. The next few weeks will show whether a coalition can emerge from the election that can last longer than most governments in the past five years.