After Two Months, Italy Still Awaits a Government

How the political class threatens Italy’s future.

On Monday, the third round of consultations between the party leaders and the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella began, but no clear, unquestionable outcome is foreseeable. Two whole months after the March 2018 general elections, Italy is still without a government and, above all, without a Prime Minister.

This prolonged stand-off is the result of the delays caused by both the Italian constitutional settlement and the incapability of the main political parties to find shared political agreements. Consultations represent the preparatory phase of the formation of a government, when the Head of State meets institutional figures and party representatives. However, the timetable of these meetings is not constitutionally regulated, but defined according to customary law.

The difficult role of Mattarella

The Head of State receives before the Senate and the Chamber Speakers, with whom discusses the possible future scenarios, then he meets the different political leaders. Indeed, Mattarella cannot decide by himself who is the best candidate Prime Minister. According to what all the party representatives say, he must appoint the political personality that is more likely to obtain the needed support in terms of parliamentary majority.

Therefore, at the end of March, the President of the Republic gave Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, the current first Italian Party, the assignment to form a majority. Di Maio proposed an agreement with the Northern League, the right-wing party led by Matteo Salvini and major party of the center-right coalition. However, after fifty days of delay tactics, Salvini refused to continue discussions with Luigi Di Maio, when it was clear that the Five Star Movement was not willing to let Silvio Berlusconi in the government coalition.

The Five Stars Movement had always demonized Silvio Berlusconi for his alleged links with the Italian mafia, an innuendo that other political forces sent out in the past, but that the Movement promised to severly punish once at the government. For this reason, a coalition including Luigi di Maio and Silvio Berlusconi is quite unlikely. On the other hand, Matteo Salvini pledged his loyalty to the leader of Forza Italia, but he could be able to leave his partner aside soon.

A Second try

In the second round of consultations, the Five Star Movement took a step towards the Democratic Party (PD). The Democratic Party ruled the country during the last legislature, spreading incalculable discontent throughout the country, due to some unpopular reforms and policies widely criticized by both the Five Star Movement and the Northern League. Moreover, in 2013, when the last Parliament was elected, the Five Star Movement represented the first choice for the Democratic Party to form a government, but the then honest-to-goodness grillini decided not to take part in the coalition. Consequently, the Democratic Party became ally with other center-right forces.

Although at first this coalition seemed to be feasible, the intervention of the former PD leader Matteo Renzi and other voices against the movement made the agreement fail, bringing to the surface all the contradictions and fragmentations inside the party, reflected in its electorate. Indeed, during the leadership of Matteo Renzi, the party struggled to talk to the lower and working class, which in 2013 still formed an important part of its electoral base. Nonetheless, many of them now support the Five Star Movement, notwithstanding that it cannot be defined a fully-fledged left wing party.

Italy, the country where elections lead to other elections

On May 7, Italy began the third round of consultations. After the meeting between Di Maio and Mattarella, the leader of the Five Stars pledged to be still available to discuss a possible yellow-green coalition with Matteo Salvini. However, for the moment, the most likely scenario is a fresh election. As Di Maio claimed in his latest public declaration, the next vote could be a ballot between the Five Star Movement and the Northern League.

However, before they should at least reach as soon as possible an agreement on the new electoral law, because, although a prefigured majoritarian system might not guarantee the presence of all parties in the Parliament, it would at least ensure the formation of a government. Moreover, since an increasing number of Italians no longer recognize themselves in any political party, the best option that we have at this point is to encourage governability. Perhaps, this situation will eventually represent the incentive the progressive forces needed to re-organize themselves once and for all.

Real intentions

Italian citizens learned something from the three rounds of consultations, hence we can make some assumptions. First of all, Salvini will not give the green light to a government without Silvio Berlusconi, also for long-term tactical reasons. Therefore, a certain number of Forza Italia voters could actually drain to the Northern League, in order to favour the political autonomy of Salvini’s party. On the other hand, the Five Star Movement will gain some new supporters from the Democratic Party, which showed complete lack of political direction and leadership. Finally, in the last few hours, Salvini and Di Maio have apparently agreed on a date for the next elections: July 8. A clear strategic move here is clearly visible, since many people will already be on holiday and therefore the turnout will probably be very low.

In conclusion, what we can see from the latest declarations and moves is that no one seems to be really interested in providing a stable solution for the next five years, and consequently in Italy’s prosperity. There have been many occasions and possibilities to form a government with a stable majority, but nobody was able to agree on a common solution. Italian politicians should eventually learn that consensus is what makes a country with strong political and social cleavages work.