Italy: The Post-Election Scrum

Published on March 7, 2018

The impressive showing by the “renegade” 5Star Movement and Northern League (LN) in Sunday’s presidential elections have clearly up-ended the established Italian political order. A clear parliamentary majority, however, has yet to emerge from the vote, and the options for a working government are limited. The realistic options, we believe, narrow down to the following three, if not two, coalitions:

“Center-Left” 5Star/PD Alliance

The 5Star Movement – we understand – is leaning heavily towards an alliance with the left and center-left, as opposed to what they would consider an “unnatural” alliance with the second largest party, Matteo Salvini’s Northern League (LN). Both the team of ministers chosen by 5SM leader Luigi di Maio prior to the election, as well as the names we hear the Movement has been floating for the Speakerships of the Lower Chamber and the Senate seem to reflect this left-leaning coalition bias.

Specifically, we have been told by sources within the Democratic Party (PD) that a former PD secretary, and prominent party member, has been in talks with di Maio, and an offer has even tentatively been put on the table to him of the Lower Chamber Speakership in exchange for PD support for a 5Star government.

While peeling off support from the PD appears to be a viable option, it is still early days, and as a pre-condition to opening negotiations with the 5Star, the PD rebels will first have to oust former Prime Minster and PD Secretary Matteo Renzi, who has railed against the 5SM, and sweep his cabal (Maria Elena Boschi, Matteo Orfini, Matteo Richetti) from power.

The first showdown will come next week, on March 13, when the PD Assembly will meet to discuss Renzi’s resignation, which he “post-dated” until a new government is formed in an attempt to control the process from the inside and to specifically avoid an alliance with the 5Star Movement.

Renzi, even while beginning to lose control of the party, does still wield considerable influence, including control of the entire PD Parliamentary representation. But the internal revolt is strong, and some of Renzi’s strongest backers, like former PD Secretary Dario Franceschini’s AreaDem, are already considering withdrawing their support for him.

“Center-Right” FI/PD Alliance

In parallel, the center-right has also been reaching out to the PD, testing the waters for some level of “external support” for a center-right government.

Silvio Berlusconi, the somewhat deflated but still powerful former Prime Minister, media magnate, and Forza Italia (FI) leader, has been canvassing single MPs elected under the Democratic Party umbrella for defectors to his side and to bolster a potential alternative coalition. As the center-right needs in excess of 50 seats to establish a working majority, this road looks bumpy, to say the least.

“Populist” 5Star/LN Alliance

All the while, a potential Northern League/5Star alliance still looms large in the background, and would become the only numerically viable option were the PD to refuse to work with either the center-right or the 5Star.

Salvini, the fiery head of the LN, however loathes the prospect of playing second fiddle and junior partner to di Maio and the 5Star Movement, especially when he feels he just might be on the cusp of wresting total control of the center-right from Berlusconi and the Forza Italia. The differing geographical strengths of the two parties (5SM South, LN North), while in theory appealing (a 5SM/LN government would be truly representative of the country), in practice create unique challenges to finding a common policy base beyond an anti-establishment, populist bent. That said, a shared support for a universal income, increased deficit spending, and joint opposition to the “Fornero” pension reform could be good starting points.

A 5Star/LN pact would by definition need to exclude Berlusconi’s Forza Italia to be acceptable to the 5Star base.

There should be more clarity in the coalition building process come March 23, when majorities will (be) need to be formed for the election of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate Speakers. Those parliamentary majorities could be serious indications for what a government majority might look like, and real consultations between President Sergio Mattarella and party leaders will only begin after that.

Mattarella has privately said he is unlikely to give a mandate to any party to form a government if he doesn’t at least foresee the possibility of a majority supporting his choice. For what it’s worth, sources within the 5Star believe the center-right will get the first shot at forming a government.

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