Italy is currently experiencing drastic political change. Following the Italian general elections on Sunday, the world watched on in disbelief at the defeat of Italy’s leading Democratic Party, who ended up taking a disappointing 22.8% of the vote. Former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has stepped down as the party’s leader with immediate effect.
In Renzi’s place, three parties now take centre stage. The Eurosceptic, anti-establishment party, ‘Five Star’, and the right wing coalition, made up of ‘Forza Italia’ and the ‘League’, both far-right anti-immigrant parties. The Five Star Movement received 32.6% of the vote, whilst the right wing coalition received an even higher 37%.
The results for each political bloc in the Italian elections (Source: BBC)
This current emergence of populist, far-right parties in Italy, set against the wider geographic backdrop of recent politics, seems to just be another piece of the jigsaw fitting into place. We have seen the unexpected Brexit result in our own country, then the rise of Trump in America, soon followed by the surprising progress of National Front leader Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election, and finally, let us not forget the violent protests that broke out in Catalonia in favour of independence from Spain.
People are crying out all around the world because widespread issues have gone ignored by governments for too long, allowing minor parties and unlikely world leaders to grasp the people’s pain and exploit it in a bid to seize control.
In the South of Italy, citizens are protesting against poverty, despite the repeated and ineffectual message rained down on them from above, that ‘Italy has the fourth-strongest economy in Europe’. On the contrary, in 2016 4.74 million Italian citizens were recorded to be living in poverty, an alarming 7.9% of the population. The poverty in Southern Italy is very real, especially in areas such as Naples, where the grip of the Mafia has been inextricably linked to the debilitated, corrupt local economy.
The Five Star Movement, founded by a comedian, and led by 31-year old Luigi Di Maio, promises the people of Southern Italy a monthly hand out of €780 to every jobless Italian living in these poorer areas. Pino Aprile, historian and author, concluded that “The Five Star vote in the south is a response to 150 years in which Rome has exploited southerners.”
More recently, in Puglia, we have seen the dreadful working conditions that migrants have been subjected to on tomato crop farms, paid far below the minimum wage and employed by illegal gang-leaders.
The Five Star Movement promises not to ignore these glaringly obvious societal failures, with Di Maio declaring after the election results: “This will finally be the republic of Italian citizens.”
Meanwhile, in Northern Italy, citizens are protesting against migrants. With 600,000 migrants reaching the shores of Italy in the last four years, many are concerned as to how this influx will affect their own livelihoods.
Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the far-right nationalist Forza Italia, joined forces with Matteo Salvini, leader of a similarly far-right group called the League. Both men used anti-immigrant rhetoric leading up to the election, promising to tighten up border control and kick out half a million illegal immigrants from the country. Salvini justified his stance with pure hypocrisy, telling the world that, to get rid of racism in Italy, they would have to get rid of the immigrants, who are the so-called “root” of the evil.
Matteo Salvini, left, and Luigi Di Maio: two potential Prime Ministers (Source: BBC)
Miraculously, such flawed logic seems to have won over a third of the nation. The fear among the people is that by letting immigrants into the country indiscriminately, many of them will have nothing to do, hence encouraging them to engage in criminal activity against the locals. It is ironic, really, when we consider how immigrants have been exploited by Italy themselves for years.
It seems that the centre-left has vanished in this election, and now the country is left in uncertainty. It is the Five Star Movement who must make the decision now, as they are the individual party with the most votes. Will they join the right wing coalition to form a majority to rule, and if so, what will the resulting government look like for Italy?
At this point, all we can do is speculate. Across the world, elites are reeling from a string of heavy defeats. The disenfranchised electorate, whose cries for help have gone unheard, are now being pushed towards extreme parties. The power of the people is on the ascendant, but the moderate parties are failing to tap into this power. Now far-right and populist parties are using the people’s democratic right against them, destabalising democracies across Europe. Playing it safe doesn’t work anymore, and it seems that the world is learning this lesson, over and over. When will it finally sink in?