Votta: After the Italian elections, nothing changes whatsoever

Roberto Votta, Columnist

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This past weekend, Italians took to the polls to vote for their 65th government in just over 70 years, an event significant enough to warrant its own segment on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Some went as far as to say that the elections “epitomized everything (in current affairs),” though it is unclear to me how a nation that elected Silvio Berlusconi — Mr. Bunga Bunga himself —  four times can be used as a standard for world politics. The real importance of the elections was determining the trajectory of populist movements throughout the Europe — and whether this founding father of the European Union was to join the liberal core of Germany and France, or the eurosceptic periphery of nations including Hungary and Poland.

It ended up doing neither.

Of the 28 domestic parties contesting the 630 representative seats and the 315 senatorial seats up for grabs, only three turned out to be relevant in the end, and none managed an outright majority.

First of these was the Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S), an anti-establishment party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009. The M5S, led by 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, came away with the biggest portion of the votes, standing at 32.2 percent. But Di Maio and his party are widely discredited. The Southern Italian’s only job prior to politics was as a steward at Napoli FC games, in order to, as Berlusconi put it, “watch the games for free.” His party, on the other hand, has no clear platform as they are locked in turmoil between which conspiracy theory they wish to endorse today. To contextualize how credible of a party they are, on top of all that, they are anti-vaccination.

The second relevant party was La Lega, a far-right party led by Matteo Salvini, a man whose solution to most problems includes bulldozing gypsy camps and social centers. La Lega was arguably the biggest election winner as their voting share climbed to a whopping 17.69 percent, and they became the leading party of the centre-right coalition with Berlusconi. Yes, Berlusconi managed to ally himself with a movement polling 17 points below him, and then lose to it in the span of a year. Never change, Cavaliere.

Finally, there was the incumbent center-left Partito Democratico, one of the few pro-European candidates in the election. PD was also the only party to field a single candidate in nine different constituencies, in a strategy entitled “desperation.” They were the biggest losers of this election, dropping to 18.9 percent of the vote, which shouldn’t be too surprising given their leader Matteo Renzi’s prelation to crushing dissent within his own party rather than proposing a viable platform for his people. Interestingly enough, he was one of the most highly approved premiers in recent history, polling at 40 percent when he took office — truly a case of dying a hero or living long enough to become the villain. But if Berlusconi managed to go through the cycle four times himself, so can his equal in megalomania.

Given that nearly 50 percent of voters voted for either the anti-establishment or the far-right party, one might wonder how this changes nothing. How can it be that I just ripped into these candidates, yet find everything to be business as usual? Although I’d like to keep a long story short and say Italian political incompetence, there are a couple of more expansive answers meriting attention.

Firstly, these elections are unlikely to lead to an actual government, as both victorious parties want to govern. Matteo Salvini has stated “we have the right and responsibility to govern” and Luigi Di Maio countered that given their vote share the responsibility is theirs. In addition, it is expected that much of the left-wing of the M5S would revolt should there be some sort of alliance with La Lega. Thus, it is likely that the much-feared Milan-Rome Axis will not end up happening. A government of purpose — a temporary government in order to pass immediately necessary policies — would also be highly unlikely as the Rosatellum was just passed months ago and it seems unlikely that taxes or immigration require such immediate attention. It was thought that PD could sell their soul and give their share of the votes to one of the two parties, but that also seems unlikely. In a post-election statement — the hurt of the loss apparently leading to the sudden growth of spine — Matteo Renzi stood his ground: “No compromise, we’ll be the opposition party”. Encouraging words from a man whose own coalition partner, Emma Bonino, expressed no confidence in him.

The more important argument is that in large part, the results of the votes were in protest to no good alternative existing in Italy. It wasn’t the electorate that changed. The nation wasn’t suddenly inundated by far-right activists who held Italian passports from foreign countries. Instead, a giant migration of disillusioned voters moved toward fringe parties to raise their concerns. PD shifted from 40 percent of the vote in 2014 to 19 percent. More than 15 percent of these voters did not turn out, while an additional 34 percent changed their vote, half which ended up voting M5S. Around 4 percent of PD voters ended up voting for a minority party that was composed of old PD rejects, Liberi e Uguali. While immigration was seen as the key issue of the elections, PD constantly refused to talk about the issue and didn’t even put it on the short form of their manifesto. M5S and La Lega weren’t necessarily good candidates, but PD was inexpressibly out of touch.

So what will happen? Hopefully, PD will take this defeat to heart and vote into leadership a fresh face to take them in a better direction, one that deals with the actual concerns of the people. In the meantime, La Lega and M5S are unlikely to form governments, making a second election very probable, at which point the Italian centre-left better have a candidate worth listening to. There is just no way M5S and the centre-right end up building a grand coalition that will last five years, and consequently, there is no reason to believe the fear-mongers who say that this will end the EU. Is it a step forward? No, but it isn’t the first time Italians have had to hold their nose for a few years. We’ve already done it four times with the smell of Bunga Bunga.

Roberto Votta is a McCormick freshman. He can be contacted at robertovotta2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.