Italy's election day: Eurosceptics, nativists & Berlusconi look to replace socialist coalition

Monday, 05 Mar, 2018

Observers and commentators agree that the election outcome is far from clear and that the latest polls are inconclusive. The nation of 60 million is sharply divided over issues that are very familiar to American voters.

The 43-year-old leader of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is struggling to regain political momentum, still smarting from the constitutional referendum defeat of December 2016 that led to his resignation as prime minister.

The coalition includes the anti-migrant League and the nationalistic, neo-fascist-rooted Brothers of Italy party. Berlusconi's great wealth, derived from his huge media holdings, would give him a dominant role behind the scenes in such a coalition, but he is legally barred from even running for parliament, let alone becoming prime minister.

Leading in opinion polls has been the Eurosceptic Five-Star Movement, but because it denies it is a political party, it candidate for prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, a 31-year-old former football stadium steward, nixes it entering into a post-election coalition government with established parties.

In the new system, 36 per cent of representatives will be allocated by using the first-past-the-post electoral system and the remaining 64 per cent using a proportional method, with one round of voting.

The populist Berlusconi's comeback is surprisingly popular in Brussels, although he is pro better relations with Russian Federation (the EU's arch enemy), and he is campaigning on tax cuts-no austerity policies-increased spending on pensions and less interference from the EU.

In the euro zone, the focus turned to two potentially major risk events this weekend.

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"A quick glance at candidates" activity provides an overview of the forces at play in the campaign.

The centre-right bloc has agreed that whichever of its parties wins the most seats will pick the prime minister.

We're missing one
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The preppy-looking Di Maio replaced comedian Beppe Grillo as party leader previous year and has steered the protest party towards more moderate positions, for example, by dropping plans to hold a referendum on exiting the eurozone.

While most Italians say the economy is doing poorly and parliament is not to be trusted, those feelings are more widespread - and felt more intensely - by those backing parties now out of power. Most who supported the Northern League and Forza Italia, on the other hand, said immigrants are a burden on the economy (73% and 63%, respectively) and increase the risk of terrorist attacks (69% and 71%).

When will we know the result?

"He was a political corpse in every sense of the word", campaign strategist Remo Nogarotto said.

However, given the parties vastly different perspectives this coalition may not last long.

Speaking in his office in the Palazzo Giustiniani in Rome, Mr Monti seemed less shocked by the political revival of Forza Italia's leader.

"So I believe that Italians should also be looking for leaders who are impeccable from that point of view".

Closing the campaign in his home city of Florence, Renzi said: "If you want to vote for fear, anti-politics and anger, don't vote for us".

Figure 4. Main targets of negative campaigning.

However, rising anti-establishment sentiment could also usher in a radical M5S-led government that would unsettle financial markets and Italy's European Union partners.