The wave of anti-establishment voting spreading across Europe has hit Italy, with both center-left and center-right parties suffering significant losses to parties outside the traditional mainstream. The anti-establishment populist Five Star Movement (M5S) comfortably won the most votes of any single party at 32 percent, and swept the southern half of the country, winning more than 50 percent of the vote in many places.
The other big winner of the election was the far-right League (formerly the Northern League), which did very well in the north. The party, which has periodically advocated secession for Northern Italy, used an aggressive anti-immigrant campaign to win nearly 18 percent of the vote, up from 4 percent in the last election and its previous all-time high of 11 percent in 1996. The League outpaced its coalition partner, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right populist Forza Italia, which received a disappointing 14 percent.
The other big disappointment was the previously-governing center-left Democratic Party. While it was the second-largest individual party, it received only 19 percent and was easily outpaced by both M5S and the center-right/far-right coalition. Matteo Renzi had seized power in an internal party coup in 2014, then resigned after losing a constitutional referendum. He returned for the 2018 election only to complete his meteoric rise and fall by resigning again.
The new far-left Free and Equal coalition also underperformed its polling but did cross the 3 percent threshold to gain seats in parliament, as did a second far-right party, Brothers of Italy. A pro-EU party in coalition with the Democratic Party just missed the 3 percent threshold but did win an individual seat in each chamber.
While the center-right coalition won more seats and votes than either M5S or the center-left coalition (made up of the Democratic Party and a few smaller allies) it does not have the votes to form a government. As there is little love lost between the League and Forza Italia, the two will probably become separate players in coalition negotiations. Italian President Sergio Mattarella will likely give M5S the first chance to form a government. M5S and any one of the other three major parties would create a relatively stable majority government.
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