Italy’s far-right and populists surge in election, but hung parliament likely

The vote plunged Europe’s fourth-largest economy into an uncertainty unique even to a nation known for cycling through leaders at a rapid clip

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2018, 10:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2018, 10:33pm

A surge for populist and far-right parties in Italy’s elections could result in a hung parliament with a major right-wing alliance likely to win the most votes, according to projections on Monday, after a campaign dominated by anger against immigration.

The predictions also showed that the far-right League party could beat media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) party within the right-wing coalition.

That raises the prospect of League leader Matteo Salvini, who has promised to shut down Roma camps, deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and tackle the “danger” of Islam, becoming Italy’s next prime minister.

The Eurosceptic, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has drawn support from Italians fed up with traditional parties, was predicted to come second to the coalition.

The ruling centre-left Democratic Party, which has struggled to get across its pro-European message of gradual economic recovery, admitted it had suffered a “clear defeat”.

The boost for far-right and populist parties has drawn comparisons to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the rise of US President Donald Trump.

“The European Union is going to have a bad night,” Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, tweeted.

Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage congratulated the Five Star Movement, his allies in the European Parliament, “for topping the poll”.

Resentment at the hundreds of thousands of migrant arrivals in Italy in recent years fired up the campaign, along with frustration about social inequalities.

“These are historic results,” Giancarlo Giorgetti, deputy head of the League, told reporters in Milan.

Alessandro Di Battista of the Five Star Movement, said: “Everyone is going to have to come and speak to us”.

The European Union is going to have a bad night
Marine Le Pen

The projections by public broadcaster Rai showed the right-wing alliance winning 35.5 per cent of the vote, including 15.8 per cent for the League and 14.5 per cent for Forza Italia, with the Five Star Movement at 32.5 per cent and the centre-left at 23.1 per cent.

Newspapers reacted with bewilderment at the result.

Il Fatto Quotidiano had a front-page headline reading: “Everything will change”. A column in Corriere della Sera said “one in two Italians voted against the system”.

Projections for the Senate by public broadcaster Rai showed the right-wing alliance with 35.5 per cent of the vote, including 15.8 per cent for the League and 14.5 per cent for Forza Italia.

The Five Star Movement came in at 32.5 per cent and the centre-left at 23.1 per cent.

Berlusconi, a flamboyant three-time former prime minister, cannot hold elected office because of a fraud conviction but has put forward European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his prime ministerial nominee.

The billionaire, who won his first election in 1994, has returned to the limelight at the age of 81 despite a career overshadowed by sex scandals and legal woes.

He was ambushed as he cast his vote in Milan by a topless woman from the Femen activist group who had “Berlusconi, you have expired” scrawled across her torso.

The campaign was a gloomy one marred by clashes between far-right and anti-fascist activists, as well as a racist shooting spree by an extreme right sympathiser last month.

Former White House adviser Steve Bannon – the man who helped Trump ride a populist wave to power – characterised the election as “pure populism”.

“The Italian people have gone farther, in a shorter period of time, than the British did for Brexit and the Americans did for Trump,” Bannon, who was visiting Italy for the election, told The New York Times.

Bannon called a possible post-election deal between the Five Star Movement and the League “the ultimate dream”.

If no grouping wins an overall majority, analysts say one scenario could be a grand coalition between the ruling centre-left Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – a prospect that would reassure investors.

In the event of a stalemate, President Sergio Mattarella will have the key role of choosing a prime ministerial nominee who could command a majority in parliament but negotiations could take weeks or even months.

“The verdict in Italy is always the same: the country is in constant instability. Being ungovernable has become endemic,” said Claudio Tito, columnist for La Repubblica.

The Five Star Movement, which was founded in 2009 by a web entrepreneur and a former comedian, has tapped into economic malaise and a protest vote.

“I voted for the right and Berlusconi in the past … but this time I’m voting Five Star Movement to be against the parties that have always stolen,” said 24-year-old pastry chef Francesco Tagliavini at a polling station in Rome’s Tor Marancia neighbourhood.

Enzo Gallo, an elderly shopper at a street market in Milan, said: “We hope something will change because until now things have been very bad.

“The middle class no longer exists, the poor are becoming poorer, the rich are becoming richer and there is no social justice,” he said.

Additional reporting by The Washington Post