Populist anti-EU factions vie for power in ‘ungovernable Italy’

Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant League party, celebrates his parties surprise result. Picture: Piero CRUCIATTIPIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/Getty Images
Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant League party, celebrates his parties surprise result. Picture: Piero CRUCIATTIPIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/Getty Images
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Two populist and stridently anti-European Union political groups, both fierce rivals, surged in Italy’s parliamentary election at the expense of the country’s traditional powers, but neither gained enough support to govern alone.

With no faction winning a clear majority in Sunday’s vote, a hung Parliament was expected and long, fraught negotiations to form a new coalition government lay ahead.

Financial markets opened lower yesterday on the news and were volatile.

“Ungovernable Italy” headlined the La Stampa newspaper. Preliminary results released by Italy’s Interior Ministry showed the centre-right coalition winning about 37 per cent of the parliamentary vote and the populist 5-Star Movement getting about 32 per cent. The centre-left coalition was far behind with 23 per cent support.

In an upset, the results showed the populist, right-wing and anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini surpassed the longtime anchor of the centre-right, the Forza Italia party of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi. According to the partial results, the League captured around 18 per cent of the vote, while Forza Italia had less than 14 per cent.

A triumphant Mr Salvini celebrated the victory of the centre-right bloc, saying it had won the “right and the duty to govern”, and announced that his party, not Mr Berlusconi’s, would lead that effort.

Mr Salvini said he would begin sounding out any potential allies to reach the necessary parliamentary majority, but he ruled out any “strange coalitions”, an apparent reference to a possible alliance with the 5-Stars.

“I am and will remain a populist,” he said. He repeated his belief that joining the common euro currency was a mistake for Italy, but said financial markets should not fear his party’s leadership.

But the anti-establishment 5-Stars won the most votes of any single party, prompting their leader, Luigi Di Maio, to immediately assert his right to govern Italy. Mr Di Maio noted yesterday that no campaign bloc had obtained a majority and that the 5-Stars had strong showings from north to south.

“The fact that we are representative of the entire nation projects us inevitably toward the government of the country,” Mr Di Maio said at a news conference in which he took no questions. “Today, for us, it is the start of the Third Republic. And the Third will finally be the republic of citizens.”

Monday’s results confirmed the surging of populist, right-wing eurosceptic forces that have swept across Europe and the defeat of the two main political forces that have dominated Italian politics for decades, Forza Italia and the centre-left Democrats.

“The vote has radically transformed Italy’s political landscape and its repercussions will be long-lasting,” said political analyst Wolfango Piccoli.

Mr Piccoli, the co-founder of the Teneo Intelligence consultancy, said the negotiations to form a coalition government would be “prolonged and the outcome uncertain”.

Mr Piccoli said the centre-right is best positioned to form a government, expected to secure 250-260 seats in the 630-member lower house. Still it will fall short of the 316 needed to control a majority.

The 5-Stars are expected to get 230 seats.

“The European Union is having a bad evening,” French far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted. British pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage also congratulated the 5-Stars.

The 5-Star Movement considers itself an internet-based democracy, not a party, and views established political parties as a parasitic caste.

Since its birth in 2009, the 5-Stars have attracted legions of mostly young Italians who are facing few job prospects and are fed up with Italy’s traditional politicians.