Populists battle over right to govern Italy
Rival populist leaders fought Monday for the right to govern Italy after their surge in a general election left the country in political limbo.
The anti-immigrant League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) each claimed Sunday’s vote gave them a mandate to lead the nation of 60 million. League leader Matteo Salvini said that he had “the right and the duty” to form a government after its surprise success at the heart of a right-wing coalition.
But M5S, which won the biggest share of the vote of any single party, claimed it was the winner. Its leader Luigi Di Maio said it had a “responsibility” to form a government.
With most ballots counted, the League was leading the dominant right-wing coalition, which won roughly 37 percent of the vote overall. The League by itself was closing in on 18 percent, ahead of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, which collapsed to 14 percent.
Salvini’s party surged in the polls after promising to shut down Roma camps, deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and tackle the what it called “danger” of Islam. “Italians have chosen to take back control of the country from the insecurity and precariousness put in place by (centre-left Democratic Party leader Matteo) Renzi,” Salvini told a press conference.
However much depends on M5S, which has drawn support from Italians fed up with traditional parties and a lack of economic opportunity. It won 32 percent of the vote.
The M5S had previously refused to align itself with other parties, which it considered part of a “corrupt” system. But Di Maio said his party now “feels the responsibility to form a government”. To that end, he said he was “open to discussion with all political actors”. “This election was a triumph for the Five Star Movement. We are the winners,” a joyous Di Maio told a news conference conference on Monday. “More than half of voters in some regions have voted for the Movement,” he added.
Five Star League?
According to polling company YouTrend, the M5S was set to gain 231 seats in the lower house Chamber of Deputies and 115 in the upper house Senate. It could therefore form a majority with either one of the League, Forza Italia and the Democratic Party (PD).
Given its heated rivalry with the PD and Berlusconi, M5S’s most likely ally looked to be the eurosceptic League. However Salvini swiftly ruled out the prospect of forming a coalition with the M5S. “N. O. No, underlined three times,” Salvini told reporters. Di Maio responded to Salvini by saying that “we represent the whole nation, from Val D’aosta to Sicily. The others can’t say that.”
‘Bad night’ for EU
Resentment at the hundreds of thousands of migrant arrivals in Italy in recent years fired up the campaign, along with frustration about social inequalities.
The boost for far-right and populist parties has prompted comparisons to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the rise of US President Donald Trump.
Prominent British pro-Brexit figure Nigel Farage congratulated the Five Star Movement, his allies in the European Parliament, “for topping the poll” as by far Italy’s biggest single party.
“These are historic results,” Giancarlo Giorgetti, deputy head of the League, told reporters in Milan. Alessandro Di Battista, another senior Five Star leader, said: “Everyone is going to have to come and speak to us”.
PD leader Renzi looks doomed after his party dropped to 19 percent of the vote. “The populists have won and the Democratic Party has lost,” PD lawmaker Andrea Marcucci admitted.
Berlusconi, a flamboyant three-time former prime minister, is on the ropes after his electoral flop. 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. But he has turned out to be the big loser alongside Renzi.
The election campaign was marred by clashes between far-right and anti-fascist activists, as well as a racist shooting spree by an extreme right sympathiser last month.
In the event of a stalemate, President Sergio Mattarella will have the key role of choosing a prime ministerial nominee. Negotiations on forming a majority could take weeks or even months.
“The verdict in Italy is always the same: the country is in constant instability,” said Claudio Tito, columnist for La Repubblica. “Being ungovernable has become endemic.”
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