Populist group wins big in Italian election but not enough to govern alone

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Italy’s populist Five Star Movement (M5S) party leader Luigi Di Maio gives a press conference a day after Italy’s general elections, on March 5, 2018 in Rome. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right euro-sceptic League party were the big winners of the election, which laid bare widespread anger over immigration and frustration with mainstream politics. ( AFP PHOTO / Filippo MONTEFORTE)

When Italy’s newly elected Parliament convenes on March 23, populists will be in control. Voters rejected traditional parties in favor of anti-establishment groups.

But Sunday’s election produced no clear majority, creating uncertainty about control of the government. Now, Italy could face prolonged political gridlock if its newly elected leaders can’t come together to govern.

CGTN’s Kate Parkinson explains what’s at stake for the country and the two parties vying for power.


For Luigi di Maio, the leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement, the results of Sunday’s election is a big win. The anti-establishment, Eurosceptic party made sweeping gains, winning about a third of the vote.

“For the Five Star Movement, this election has been a triumph,” di Maio said. “We are the absolute winners of this election so first of all a big thank you to about 11 million Italians who voted for us and gave us their trust and who honored us with their trust.”

Far-right leader, Matteo Salvini was also jubilant. His anti-immigration party, the League, did better than predicted — outperforming the party of his more moderate coalition partner, Silvio Berlusconi — to become the main rightwing voice in Italy.

“This is an extraordinary victory which fills us with pride, joy and responsibility, because millions of Italians have asked us to retake control of this country, to free it from uncertainty and insecurity after the laws created by Renzi, by Brussels, the economic spread, migrant arrivals, bank failures. So I see it as a vote for the future,” Salvini said.

The 2008 financial crisis has fueled the rise of anti-establishment parties across Europe. In Italy, where economic recovery has been slow and unemployment remains stubbornly high, the biggest loser in Sunday’s vote was the party that’s been in power since 2013.

Defeated, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi decided to step down as Democratic party leader once the new government is formed. It’s a major blow for the leader and the party serving as the main partner in the current center-left government. Now, it’s shaping up to be the largest opposition party in Parliament.


A post shared by Matteo Renzi (@matteorenzi) on

For now, Renzi excluded the possibility of the Democrats joining any government led by the League or the Five Star Movement. Renzi said both those parties represent an anti-Europeanism that he would not support and said they had used “verbal hatred” on his Democratic Party lawmakers.

While there is a clear loser, there is no clear winner. Despite both Five Star and the League claiming they have the right to govern, neither has secured enough parliamentary seats to do it alone. The concern for many in Europe is that they may decide to join forces, producing a Eurosceptic, anti-establishment, and anti-immigrant coalition government.

But, if no successful constellation of political groups emerges, Italian President Sergio Mattarella could end up appointing a government and tasking it with changing the complex election law that created this scenario. But that too would likely stall reforms – adding to the prospect of another election soon.

Professor Klaus Larres discusses the Italian elections outcome

In aftermath of Italy’s general election no clear winner emerged. CGTN’s Mike Walter speaks with Professor Klaus Larres about the situation.