Italy's populist parties battle for power after election ends in hung Parliament

By Amy Kellogg

Published March 05, 2018

Luigi Di Maio announced triumphantly on Monday that “the Citizens’ Republic” starts right now.

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.

Right-wing, anti-immigrant and euroskeptic League's Matteo Salvini gives the thumbs up at the end of a press conference on the preliminary election results, in Milan, Monday, March 5, 2018. The League jumped from 4 percent of the vote five years ago to nearly 18 percent in Sunday's vote, ahead of Forza Italia, which had nearly 14 percent. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Right-wing, anti-immigrant and euroskeptic League's Matteo Salvini gives the thumbs up at the end of a press conference on the preliminary election results, in Milan, Monday, March 5, 2018. The League jumped from 4 percent of the vote five years ago to nearly 18 percent in Sunday's vote, ahead of Forza Italia, which had nearly 14 percent.  (AP)

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.”

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.

5-Stars Movement's leader Luigi Di Maio arrives for a press conference on the preliminary election results, in Rome, Monday, March 5, 2018. With the anti-establishment 5-Stars the highest vote-getter of any single party, the results confirmed the defeat of the two main political forces that have dominated Italian politics for decades — Forza Italia and the center-left Democrats — and the surging of populist and right-wing, euroskeptic forces that have burst onto the European scene.  (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Luigi Di Maio announced triumphantly on Monday that “the Citizens’ Republic” starts right now. 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.  (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“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.

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi speaks during a press conference on the election results, in Rome, Monday, March 5, 2018. With the anti-establishment 5-Stars the highest vote-getter of any single party, the results confirmed the defeat of the two main political forces that have dominated Italian politics for decades — Forza Italia and the center-left Democrats — and the surging of populist and right-wing, euroskeptic forces that have burst onto the European scene. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi speaks during a press conference on the election results, in Rome, Monday, March 5, 2018. With the anti-establishment 5-Stars the highest vote-getter of any single party, the results confirmed the defeat of the two main political forces that have dominated Italian politics for decades — Forza Italia and the center-left Democrats — and the surging of populist and right-wing, euroskeptic forces that have burst onto the European scene  (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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.

Amy Kellogg currently serves as a Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent based in Milan, Italy. She joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999 as a Moscow-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @amykelloggfox

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