Time has eroded the appeal of the centre-left in Italian politics. Italy is now at the mercy of changing populist fashions. This new volatility is being steered by political elites in centre-right coalition formed by Lega Nord and Silvio Berlusconi own Forza Italia. The populist Five Star Movement (Cinque Stelle) has yet to reveal its ideological hand.
Cinque Stelle could swing in either ideological direction. This might include a working arrangement with the Democratic Party (PD) as a minority partner pending fresh elections on terms more favourable to Cinque Stelle. While the counting of votes is continuing, this bloc appears to have the numbers to form a workable coalition.
Despite this possible consolation prize, support for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) has been reduced by the populist tide to less than 20 percent in a highly fractured electorate.
Conventional opinion still favours the formation of a temporary of government by centre-right parties linked to the Northern League and Forza Italia. These numbers might be built up to over 270 deputies with the combined support of small far-right parties. This is well short of the 316 deputies required to pass legislation.
The trends in voting do not point to a dramatic return to old levels Berlusconi’s influence during two full terms of Italian national government (2001-2013). It is most unlikely that Matteo Salvini, (born in 1973), will use his superior numbers in an emergent centre-right bloc to allow Silvio Berlusconi to become the octogenarian kingmaker.
In all these antics, the structural problems facing Italy as the world’s twelfth largest economy in Purchasing Power Parity Terms (PPP) are usually over-looked.
Recent economic growth levels in Italy’s market economy were not consistent enough to contain both unemployment and the income divide in a market-driven economy.
The challenge of maintaining consistent levels of economic growth is an endemic problem. More recently, Italy has not fully recovered from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
If an Italian government can be formed from a hung congress, its leaders inherit a national unemployment rate of 11.1 percent as of January 2018. National levels of youth unemployment are appalling and only moderated from 32.8 percent to 31.5 percent in the month to January 2018.
In Regional Italy, youth unemployment is peaked at 43.4 percent in March 2014, a year after Berlusconi’s centre-right government was ousted from office on 23-25 February 2013.
Italy’s centre-left government since 2013 has survived three changes of prime ministers. In rapid succession came Enrico Letta (2013-14), Matteo Renzi (2014-16) and finally Paolo Gentiloni. Renzi’s resignation was prompted by the failure of his constitutional reform package to be carried at the national referendum on 4 December 2016. The final Yes votes on the proposals dipped to less than 41 percent, despite initial widespread support.
The centre-right of Italian politics had a field day in opposing the constitutional changes but there were some reservations from jurists and within the Democratic Party (PD) and its left-leaning support base in Congress. Last weekend’s exit polls were worse for the PD Party than expected (Politico Online 4 March 2018):
The swing towards the centre-right of Italian politics will inevitably raise the profile of Italy within the US Global Alliance. NATO requires commitment from Italy to assist with the maintenance of nuclear weapons systems. Financial commitment by Italian governments to the hosting of nuclear field weapons, submarine-launched missiles, bomber fleets, and ICBMs. The US has the final say in relation to nuclear battle plans for the final use of these weapons of mass destruction.
Nuclear weapons installations are provocatively located at the Aviano Air Base (Near Venice) and the Ghedi Air Base (Near Brescia) in Northern Italy. Field weapons, bomber squadrons, and under-sea weapons have a more foot-loose distribution and are always on the move.
Ironically, it is the Holy See (Vatican) under the leadership of Pope Francis which signed up to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and immediately ratified the Treaty. No NATO country dared to sign the Treaty, following a blunt directive from the Obama Administration.
In that tarnished wisdom of hindsight, the PD coalition should have been more proactive in its commitments to peace, infrastructure and community development since 2013. The electorate also failed to understand the underlying causes of the refugee challenge from North African countries. This was not assisted by NATO’s commitment to regime change in Libya, a former Italian Colony after 1905.
Expect a rough time ahead for Italy if Cinque Stelle tolerates the return of a far-right government. This is a possible scenario that is not justified by the mathematics of the current voting trends.
Italian millionaires will be in the ascendency again if there is a return to the old Italian currency. A million lire fetched 526.5 euros in 2002. Perhaps, this is one way to Make Italy Great Again in the New Republican traditions of President Trump and his zeal for protectionism.
Contemporary Italian politics is always a guessing game. Stay interested and enjoy the speculation in the sound traditions of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli has indeed empowered the representative electorate to shape the policies of all aspiring Italian princes with a commitment to a Risorgimento that populist rhetoric alone will never deliver.
Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy, and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to advance pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.