Italy’s election - a quick analysis

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Italy has voted – and the results could not be more different from what even the exit polls predicted. Bersani has a very slim majority in the lower house, Berlusconi is still a force in Italian politics, Monti is now irrelevant and Beppe Grillo’s anti- establishment movement got the most votes. And as none of the parties have a majority in the Senate Italy is in crisis.

Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) got most of the attention, but this success has to be understood in the context of a crisis across Italy’s political spectrum - traditional parties in Italy lost around 12million supporters compared to the elections in 2008:

  • Silvio Berlusconi lost 6.297.343 votes (- 46,20%)
  • The Northern League vote was more than halved; losing 1.634.387 votes (- 54%)
  • Bersani and the Democratic Party surprisingly lost 3.452.606 votes (- 28%)
  • The Union of Christian Democrats lost a proportionately massive 1.441.937 votes (- 70,33%)

Broadly calculated these voters have chosen M5S. Grillo’s party gained 8,689.168 votes at the Lower Chamber, making him the leader of Italy’s most powerful single party. The elections have also seen a relatively high abstention rate. Turnout is traditionally very high in Italy, but fell to 75.41% compared to 80.40% in 2008. As the traditional parties struggled to motivate their bases to get out and vote, Grillo managed to build a new and passionate support base.

Beppe Grillo’s campaign has been extraordinary and unique both in terms of outcome and process: a minimal campaign - no television, no huge machinery, only the internet and his force of personality. His tsunami tour was hugely successful and brought voters back to town squares all over Italy. At his last speech in Rome more than one million people queued to listen to him. Many of these included young educated Italians frustrated by high unemployment. 

Despite Berlusconi’s impressive ‘return’ we should not forget that he lost these elections. Both his party and his coalition have lost millions of votes. However, the results for him could have been even worse had he not carried out a masterful campaign. He is a great communicator, and had a clear message for the Italians: give back cash and take back taxes imposed by Monti. 

In their own way both Grillo and Berlusconi capitalised on resentment towards austerity. It comes as no surprise then that Monti was one of the main losers of this election. The former EU commissioner and current PM was lauded throughout Europe and made the cover of Time Magazine. But the man who was appointed to “save” Italy has found that the medicine of austerity was not popular amongst voters. He only managed a poor 10.5% in the Chamber of Deputies and only 9.15% in Senate. He made two tactical mistakes. First he overestimated the potential of the Catholic vote, which in the end remained irrelevant. Second he tried to reinvent himself as politician, something that obviously he is not. He struggled to shake of his image as a technocrat - speaking an upperclass language and getting endorsements from European leaders. The later simply reinforced the image of a man who did as he was told by others in Europe and allowed foreign interference in national affairs.

It seems more sensible that the Democratic Party will try to find alliances with Grillo, leaving both Monti and Berlusconi aside. However, even if this happens, Grillo's movement is unpredictable and therefore we have a very unstable scenario in front of us. There is no right or left for the new, young 163 MPs who declared that they will vote assessing the proposals on a case by case basis and according to their programme. What seems to be clear is that the austerity regime imposed by Monti's is something that belongs to the past and that this will have repercussion in Europe too.

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