Italy elections: Populist Eurosceptic parties celebrate stunning wins as Renzi quits amid poor result for centrists

'Euro is a failed project destined to end'

Matteo Salvini has overtaken Silvio Berlusconi as the right's most powerful figure
Matteo Salvini has overtaken Silvio Berlusconi as the right's most powerful figure

The Italian general election has delivered a puzzling paradox – the country it seems can’t have a stable government without populists, or with them.

On Monday the country woke up to a new parliamentary setup that delivered no clear governing majority, but stunning victories for Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (MS5), which comes out as Italy’s biggest party with over 32 per cent of the vote, and Matteo Salvini’s populist anti-immigrant League – formally the Northern League – which is now the leading party of the biggest coalition on the right, which boasts 38 per cent between its members.

Matteo Renzi’s ruling centre-left Democratic Party garnered just 19 per cent, and Mr Renzi paid for that poor performance by announcing his resignation from the party’s leadership on Monday. “It is obvious that I will leave the helm of [the party],” said Mr Renzi, who quit as prime minister when Italians voted against him in a 2016 referendum on constitutional reform. However, he said that the process to choose a new leader would only happen after a new Italian government is appointed.

Italian Elections 2018: Democratic Party concedes defeat

Despite his decision to stand aside, Mr Renzi said he expected the Democratic Party to shun attempts at coalition talks. He said that it was not an option, even if there is no consensus on the subject within the party’s ranks.

“The Italian people have asked us to be in opposition and that is where we will go,” he said. “We will never form a government with extremist parties – this isn’t an option for the Democrats,” he added.

Final results show the country in deadlock, with the north dominated by the right and the south delivering victory to the Five Star Movement, which describes itself as neither left nor right but ‘post-ideological’ despite promising better workers’ rights and a universal basic income, and consequently winning support from many left-wing voters.

The results have seen the centre-right coalition shift to the right and Forza Italia lose impetus as its driving force. The television tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, 81, who was overwhelmed by scandals but passed himself off as the moderate “Euro-friendly” leader of the coalition, has been overtaken by ally Mr Salvini, of the Eurosceptic, far-right side of the group, by a margin of four percentage points. The League now has about 18 per cent of the coalition, Forza Italia 14 per cent, and others 5 per cent.

As soon as he claimed victory, Mr Salvini explicitly attacked European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker; he also asserted the populist nature of the League, adding the “euro is a failed project destined to end”.

After a corruption scandal engulfed Umberto Bossi, the League’s founder, in 2013, Mr Salvini took on the xenophobic anti-southern party, reduced to a vote share of 4 per cent, and transformed it into a nationalist European ally of major far-right parties in France, Germany and Austria: Front National, Alternative für Deutschland and Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs. The League’s declaration is bad news for the pro-EU establishment, but the nightmare scenario for Brussels is a power-sharing agreement between Mr Salvini and Mr Di Maio – a circumstance currently ruled out by Mr Salvini.

No matter what Mr Salvini says, the triumph of the Five Star Movement suggests no future government can afford to ignore Mr Di Maio and its party. The 31-year-old leader gained extraordinary support and become the youngest leader of the most voted-for populist party in Europe. Only Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is of the same age.

When Beppe Grillo launched the Movement, a referendum about the euro and saying “Vaffanculo” (“F*** off!”) to the establishment were the group’s leading issues. However, Mr Di Maio is leading the party’s transition from harshly eurosceptic to a more institutional and pragmatic party. He has said he is open to talking to every other political group.

However, with the traditional coalition between centre-left and centre-right looking uncertain - the Democratic Party and Forza Italia don’t have numbers to guarantee a government – negotiations between the Five Star Movement and the centre-left might be the only option to avoid an unlikely super-populist alliance between Mr Salvini and Mr Di Maio.

The head of state, Sergio Mattarella, is the key player of the next few weeks: the President is going to hold consultations with parties following the convening of the new Parliament on 23 March. Mr Mattarella is expected to take the country (and the populists) out of the impasse.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in