The results of the Italian general elections on March 4, 2018, have left Italy’s ruling classes, on every side of the political spectrum, really outraged. These results appear to be a rejection of Italy’s self-image, acquired through its efforts over previous decades to recover from the Fascist era and World War II and return to its glorious past.
Until now, Italy had tried to show itself as European, enlightened, globalist, and moderate as possible. Across the entire political spectrum, from its traditionally strong, assertive old communist side to the Catholic political parties that are directly connected to the Vatican, there was tolerance toward the “other.”
These elections, however, have been revolutionary. They represent a turning point that on the one hand illustrates a political impasse, but on the other hand indicates a very clear change. The Left is dead – support for the PD (Democratic Party), the center-left party led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, has plummeted from 297 seats in the Chamber of Deputies to 107 and from 111 Senate seats to just 45. The Center Right is also suffering, because Silvio Berlusconi, also a former prime minister, did not perform his usual political magic.
Neither of the two big winners of the elections has ever worked a nine to five job. They don’t possess any specific skills, academic degrees, or any military or professional experience, except as party activists. The big winner is Luigi Di Maio, age 31, from Avellino, a peripheral town not far from Naples. Some people remember him as an usher at the Naples football stadium. His party, Cinque Stelle, (Five Stars) is very anti-establishment. La Lega (The League), the other winner in these elections, is similar to Five Stars, but only in being anti-establishment. There are many differences between them that make an alliance difficult.
La Lega is led by Matteo Salvini, age 44, and it runs on a populist manifesto. Salvini now leads the right-wing coalition, as support for his predecessor Berlusconi has dropped.
There is a unique reason for this double victory: the frustration and unhappiness of the Italians, as well as their rage against Europe, which has abandoned this long Italian geographic “boot” – the bridge to Europe for all the immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The economic problems of recent years, Europe’s nasty attitude, envy of Germany, the pyramidal structure of the clannish Italian powers and the resulting corruption have all led to Five Stars emerging with more than 30% of the vote, and La Lega with about 19%.
Until 2013, La Lega was devoted to a dream: the independence of the wealthy north of Italy from the poorer, dependent south.
However, under the guidance of Salvini, it developed into a national party. Nevertheless, most of La Lega’s votes came from the north, while Five Stars got most of its support from the south of Italy. Salvini’s La Lega party has formed a new center-right coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forze Italia party and a small, ultraconservative nationalist party called Brothers of Italy. In this way, Berlusconi maintains his role of the moderate “noble father,” open toward globalization and Europe.
The Left still favors a stronger Europe, in the style of French President Emmanuel Macron, and prefers to legitimize immigration while still fighting illegal entry. It had hoped for a long life of success under the leadership of the energetic Matteo Renzi, who had previously gained a strong majority after inventing a new Left that was free from the memory of communism. Berlusconi had campaigned for promoting free enterprise and competition, while easing the tax burden on the common man.
However, both sides were beaten by Five Stars and its utopian dream. Di Maio, who sought to put a stop to excessive privilege and corruption, has also demanded a stipendio di cittadinanza, a “citizen salary” from the state for every Italian. He also wants to cancel the Fornero Law, which sets pension age as 67. Furthermore, he is against the compulsory vaccination of children, and is actually against any vaccination at all.
Five Stars has promoted various kinds of conspiracy theories. Some of the party’s members have written that the mythological Sirens really exist.
Others cast serious doubts upon the real story of 9/11. Some Five Stars voters are very keen to believe in the most anti-Israel narrative. For example, when Di Maio recently indicated whom he may choose from his party to become ministers, he mentioned the name of Lorenzo Fioramonti, a BDS activist. Several members of his party have also expressed their disapproval for the State of Israel.
It should be noted that Matteo Salvini and La Lega, on the other hand, have never showed any signs of anti-Israeli or antisemitic attitudes. In fact, the opposite. La Lega, which favors the populist side of the EU panorama, has expressed sympathy for Israel on several occasions.
While the right-wing coalition has a majority in theory, it still cannot govern because a majority of 40% is needed, which no one has secured. Five Stars cannot form a government, as the Left and Right are both, in its view, too connected with the old power structure, which disgusts Di Maio and Beppe Grillo, the godfather and founder of the party.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella must decide who will be appointed to form a government. For him, Di Maio is a must, but he is destined to fail.
No one knows what will ultimately happen. It is likely that the present government, led by Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of the PD, will continue for a while in a technical capacity.
Di Maio may have announced his triumph, but Italy has just become the most uncertain country in Europe.
The writer, a Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, journalist and author, is a former member of the Italian Parliament.