Luigi Di Maio announced triumphantly on Monday that “the Citizens’ Republic” starts right now.
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The only thing is—he is not Prime Minister. He came out No. 1 in Sunday’s election, but Italy’s vote has resulted in a hung Parliament. Di Maio’s Five Star Movement got 32 percent of the vote. But that is not enough to form a government.
You need 40 percent. The center-right coalition that revolved around comeback elder Silvio Berlusconi was thrown a curveball. That coalition of parties got 37 percent of votes. Not enough to govern, either, but more when put all together than Five Star took by itself. But unexpectedly, upstart far-right leader Matteo Salvini and his party got more votes than Berlusconi’s did. Berlusconi, though prevented by a tax-fraud conviction from holding political office, had been expected to be the kingmaker of a center-right coalition that in some polls was favored to run the country next.
That won’t happen now.
As Alberto Castelvecchi of LUISS University in Rome put it: “Berlusconi’s comeback was very strong in the media, in the TV, in the magazines, in the newspapers, but not so strong to beat the younger and much more vocal Matteo Salvini.”
Salvini campaigned on “Italy First,” is eurosceptic and unabashedly anti-migration. The other day he said: “We are under attack—our culture, society, traditions and way of life are at risk.”
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Former Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon was in Rome over the weekend drinking in the populist fervor.
“I think if they create a coalition among the populists, it would be fantastic,” he told a local newspaper, “It would terrify Brussels, pierce it in its heart.”
But such a “dream team” probably won’t become a reality. Salvini said his “League” party won’t join forces with the other populist powerhouse, Five Star. But still, he believes Brussels is on edge.
“I was reading that in Brussels there are some who are worried. They are wrong,” he said. “The European people with the Italian vote have taken a step closer to freedom from the constraints and cages that are bring Europe back to hunger, instability, and insecurity.”
The incumbent Democrats took just 18 percent of votes. They didn’t rate on the big issues of migration and economy even though Italy has returned to growth under their stewardship, and they have cracked down on illegal migration.
There is a strong anti-establishment mood in Italy right now and the old traditional parties of Berlusconi and the Democrats apparently did not excite or inspire trust in voters.
And in terms of Russian interference—the jury is out on that loaded topic. But one common line of argument in Italy is that the Russians wouldn’t have needed to do a thing. Five Star was on its own web-based fast track trajectory. And Salvini is friends with President Vladimir Putin, never hiding his support for the Russian strongman.
Berlusconi and Putin have always gotten along. Finally, Italy is not giving Russia much trouble. It is one of the most pro-Russian countries in Europe when it comes to desire to do business with Moscow.
Now, the horse-trading begins. Someone is going to have to form a government. And they are going to need to convince Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella that they have what it takes to cobble together a grouping that can easily win majorities in Parliament.