The orientation of the political dial in Italian politics shifted from the far-right to the left
This has been a torrid summer for Italian politics. Not only did Matteo Salvini attempt a shakesperean coup against its coalition partners and push for an early election, which saw the collapse of the first truly anti-establishment government in Western Europe, but in a matter of days the orientation of the political dial in Italian politics shifted from the far-right to the left. The formation of this new coalition did pass without its own coups de scene, which was initially endorsed full-heartedly by own Matteo Renzi from inside the Democratic Party (PD), the same person who a year earlier had precluded any participation in government with the Five Star Movement (M5S), only to then abandon his own party to create his own centrist political outfit a few days later, Italia Viva.
This has poured cold water on the new government, which went from being a coalition of three political groupings (PD, M5S, LEU) to one with four, with the latter not having been formally invited so much as having having sprung up from the divided house which is the the PD. The effect of this has also meant the loss of two ministers for the PD in the new Conte cabinet and the new government having to calibrate with another kingmaker, Renzi’s new party, which will have the power to make the government collapse at any moment. Given that the PD has now lost up to 30 deputies and senators in parliament, and is poised to lose even more to Renzi’s party, it would have less possibilities to define the parliamentary priorities and therefore its overall responsibility for the government’s policies.
This follows a new dynamic for Conte’s second cabinet, as it will be dominated by political forces that will try to distance themselves from hard political choices oh his government. On one hand the Democratic Party, as previously stated, will use this loss of parliamentary suppport to portray an independent line and to seek the mantle of the reluctant yet politically responsible governing partner. More so, it will try to capitalize by portraying the new government as a M5S-Italia Viva pact and maitain its distance while trying to consolidate its position. As for Renzi, he will try to portray his party as an external stabilising force to the PD-M5S duopoly, bringing responsible politics to the fractious governing allies who want to dismantle his political legacy. The M5S will try to play hardball with the new government and portray themselves as the ‘internal opposition’ ensuring that the new government is taken to account, while lambasting the establishment parties, as seen with the recent statement from Alessandro Di Battista in which he said that the democratic party could not be trusted.
These potentially disruptive dynamics inside the coalition will make the task of governing Italy even more complex for prime minister Conte and he will potentially be walking over a minefield at every turn. The risk being that the political forces forming the government will spend once again their time campaigning instead of governing effectively, as was the case with the first Conte government.
However, the coalition heralds the potential for change in Italian politics. Once again political reform is back on the agenda with porpositions to reduce the number of parlamentarians as well as the modification of the electoral law in a more proportional configuration. This would dampen the ability of Salvini to win an outright majority should there be elections, and force him into post-electoral compromises. Under this new political reality, the Democratic Party will complete the process of de-Renzification reducing the legacy of the divisive former leader. This will have the effect of further binding the PD with the former leftwing splinters within LEU, allowing the social-democratic left to consolidate itself and potentially win back former voters. On the other hand, Renzi will have the chance to pursue the centre, attracting moderates and social progressives to his new party. He however risks finding a crowded field, as the former development minister Carlo Calenda is also seeking to break into the centrist field with his own movement as does former Forza Italia man, Giovanni Toti.
As for the M5S, it will be increasingly difficult for it to maintain its anti-establishment credentials while staying in power with a pro-European foreign and economic policy, therefore losing some of its raison d’etre. It is very likely that the M5S will lose further support. The result of this will be that Italy will be facing a new period of political fragmentation with different blocks vying for power. This new configuration of power will be tested in the upcoming regional elections, which will constitute another electoral test for the new government, which sees renewed discussions about political alliances between the M5S and the PD. What is certain is that it will be increasingly difficult for any prime minister, including a popular one such as Conte, to stay in power until 2023. Furthermore, it is clear that the the two enfants terribles of Italian politics, Matteo Salvini and Matteo Renzi, will be at it again trying to blow at each-other’s house of cards.