Italy must work hard to create 65th government in 72 years

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Italy is set for another hung parliament after voters opted for far-right, populist parties, with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and Eurosceptic League (previously Northern League) making the biggest gains (Financial Times) in the general election on March 4.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia held the biggest bloc of votes but it looked certain to be overtaken by the League, which campaigned on an anti-immigration sentiment.

League leader Matteo Salvini appeared to claim the right to be prime minister on Monday (Politico), but ruled out an alliance with the Five Star Movement.

The expected results, projected from exit polls and real data, mark a move away from Italy’s traditional parties and towards anti-establishment and far-right groups.

No party or coalition passed the threshold to form a government, prompting Italy to face weeks of political instability while a deal is reached.

This isn’t unusual for Italy, which has churned through 64 governments in the 72 years since Italy reconstituted itself as a republic in 1946 a year after the fall of former Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini.

Northern League party leader Matteo Salvini poses at the end of a news conference, the day after Italy's parliamentary elections, in Milan, Italy March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
Northern League party leader Matteo Salvini poses at the end of a news conference, the day after Italy’s parliamentary elections, in Milan, Italy March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The rise of M5S

The Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, “M5S”) was founded in 2009 and was quick to make its mark as a disruptive force in Italian politics, taking the second-largest share of the vote in the 2013 election. The party went on to win the Mayoralty of Rome in 2016 and successfully campaigned against the government in a referendum on constitutional reforms, leading to the resignation of then-prime minister Matteo Renzi, in December 2016.

The party’s program is broadly eurosceptic and protectionist. It taps into public anger toward establishment politics, which is commonly perceived as rife with corruption and cronyism.

One of its eye-catching early promises was a commitment to “bottom-up democracy,” (Economist) allowing the public to directly influence its program through online voting, and promising to apply an accessible approach to policymaking if it entered government.

The party’s founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, has in the past been convicted of defamation and other offences. His bombastic leadership style attracted criticism, as did an adherence to conspiracy theories, such as  the belief that vaccination cause autism (Repubblica, in Italian).

The party’s current leader, 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, has also been accused of defamation, but used parliamentary privilege to avoid legal proceedings, in July 2017 (Repubblica).

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