This article titled “Italy election: hung parliament on the cards as populist parties surge – live!” was written by Jon Henley European affairs correspondent (earlier) and Bonnie Malkin (now), for theguardian.com on Monday 5th March 2018 09.16 Asia/Kolkata
Democratic Party admits defeat
Italy’s ruling centre-left Democratic Party has admitted it had suffered a “clear defeat” in a general election after coming in third according to projections.
“This is a very clear defeat for us,” Maurizio Martina, a minister in the outgoing government, told reporters.
“We are expecting a result below our expectations… This is very clearly a negative result for us,” he said.
A centre-left coalition led by the Democratic Party was projected to score just 23.1%, after the main right-wing alliance at 35.5% and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement at 32.5%.
“Voters have spoken very clearly and irrefutably. The populists have won and the Democratic Party has lost,” Andrea Marcucci, one of the party’s lawmakers in the outgoing parliament, wrote on his Facebook page.
What we know so far
- Officials results are not expected to be finalised for several hours, but projections seem to point to a hung parliament, after Italians ditched traditional centrist parties.
- More than 50% of Italians voters supported populist parties.
- The single party predicted to secure the most votes is the Five Star Movement, with about 32%. The anti-establishment party was founded nine years ago by comedian Beppe Grillo.
- A coalition of centre-right parties, led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition and including the xenophobic League, is expected to win up to 36% of the vote.
- Early data shows League (17.5%) gaining more votes than Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (14.4%), giving its firebrand chief Matteo Salvini a chance to lead the coalition and be its candidate for prime minister.
- The centre-left party headed by Matteo Renzi has had an abysmal election, slumping to about 19% of the vote.
- There are several parliamentary combinations that could be cobbled together to win a majority of seats, many of which would pair unlikely bedfellows. Under some scenarios, the Five Star Movement could combine with Renzi’s Democratic party to get to above 50%.
- However, the M5S has previously said it would not take part in a coalition government.
- As a result of the confusion in Italy, which is unlikely to resolved for weeks, the Euro was set for a choppy trading session.
M5S is looking like it has won the most votes of any single party. Stephanie Kirchgaessner has more on the anti-establishment party and its links to Russia:
So, if Italy does get a hung parliament, how long could negotiations over forming government take?
Here is how news organisations around Europe are interpreting the events of the night, while La Stampa headlined its election summary: “Ungovernable Italy”.
M5S has had a particularly good night in the south of the country.
In the midst of an eventful night, our Italy correspondent Stephanie Kirchgaessner has paused to ponder what is next for the country?
Traditionally, a grand coalition – like a forced marriage of rivals – could be brought together relatively easily by joining the country’s two big traditional parties, the centre-left Democratic Party led by Matteo Renzi, and Forza Italia on the right led by Silvio Berlusconi.
But those traditional parties are not expected to have enough support on their own to create parliamentary majority, according to early results. Exit polls and early projects on Monday morning revealed that as many as 50% of Italian voters supported populist parties.
The Five Star Movement, once laughed off as merely a protest party, is expected to emerge as the single biggest party, with up to 33% of the vote. La Lega, previously known as the Northern League, also appeared to have performed better than expected.
Those parties, once seen as fringe movements, will likely have to play a role in whatever coalition is created for the new government in order for it to look reflective of the election results, analysts say. The calculation is complicated in large part because the Five Star Movement has always traditionally said it would not take part in a coalition government.
You can read her full analysis here:
Here are the latest projections for the make-up of the chamber of deputies:
Euro trades lower as markets digest the polls
The euro is set for a choppy trading session after the strong showing by the 5-Star Movement and other populists. The single currency jumped earlier when it was confirmed that Germany had finally got itself a new grand coalition.
It reached $1.23655 but has fallen 0.1% in the last hour or so to $1.2309 as traders digest the significance of a likely hung parliament after an election that saw more than half of the country’s voters back parties outside the mainstream. It’s now up slightly against the pound at €1.118.
M5S until recently supported a referendum on whether Italy, the eurozone’s third biggest economy, should withdraw from the currency bloc. And while it says the time for such a vote has passed, the rightwing League still wants Italy to pull out.
The group formerly known as the Northern League is in Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition, which is projected to have won about 36% of the vote, and could form the next government.
Our correspondent Stephanie Kirchgaessner has some interesting detail on Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League (formerly the Northern League).
As thoughts move towards negotiations over power and power sharing, journalist Lorezo Tondo has a very good question:
Hung parliament ‘most likely outcome’ – analysts
Analysts say early projections from Italy’s election indicate that a hung parliament is the most likely outcome and that the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement’s strong showing may send a negative signal to financial markets.
Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy told the Associated Press that building a majority in the Italian parliament “will be hard if not impossible,” and that tough negotiations were expected.
The early projections had the 5-Star Movement as the strongest single party but a centre-right coalition comprising three parties was leading overall. Neither have enough of a lead to govern alone.
Economic analyst Lorenzo Codogno, a former Treasury official, said the 5-Star’s showing was better than expected and that “financial markets are likely to take these figures negatively.”
He warned that talks on forming a government would be “long and complex.”
This seems slightly too soon, considering most balls are still in the air and no one is quite sure where they will land …
Here is a good summary of where we are now:
Whatever way you look at it, the night has been a success for Matteo Salvini and his far-right La Liga party, which is projected to win about 16% of the vote.
The Associated Press reports that a senior leader of the Five Star Movement has hailed the exit poll data as a “triumph” for his party.
Addressing supporters early on Monday, Alessandro Di Battista said the anti-establishment movement was the leading party in Italy’s election.
But the 30% support indicated by a RAI state TV exit poll is far short of the absolute majority needed to form Italy’s next government.
M5S has officially vowed not to join any post-election coalitions. But Di Battista welcomed other parties to come talk as long as they use Five Star “methods” of “transparency” and “correctness” in political conduct.
One possible partner is the anti-migrant League led by Matteo Salvini. He is jostling with Silvio Berlusconi for leadership of the centre-right bloc.
Populist parties gain lion’s share of support
Our Italian correspondent Stephanie Kirchgaessner has wrapped up the developments so far. The main message is that Italian voters, who have traditionally been risk averse, are ready to ditch the big mainstream parties, and that the centre-left party headed by Matteo Renzi has had an abysmal election.
About 50% of Italians who voted in the national elections supported populist parties that were once considered fringe, according to early election exit polls and voter projections.
The most likely result of the national election seemed either a win by the centre right coalition headed by Silvio Berlusconi, the 81-year-old former prime minister, or a hung parliament in which populist parties – the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the xenophobic Northern League – would have considerable influence in the creation of a new government.
The exit polls showed Berlusconi’s coalition – which includes the Northern League – winning up to 36% of the vote, a result that could potentially help the billionaire media magnate clinch a fourth election victory under a complicated new Italian election law.
Analysts were also poring over early data that showed a potential political upset: Matteo Salvini, the firebrand head of La Lega – as the League is now known – beating out Berlusconi within the centre-right coalition.
Under a “gentleman’s agreement”, whoever emerges as the winner between the two will choose the next prime minister, if the coalition were to win a majority.
Several election watchers are predicting a hung parliament and weeks of horse trading ahead.
So, what exactly is the Five Star Movement?
The anti-establisment party, started by comedian Beppe Grillo, burst on to the political scene in 2012 and has gone from strength to strength. The 69-year-old remains a figurehead, though he has handed over leadership to sharp-suited disciple Luigi Di Maio.
Since its beginnings, the party has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence amid an outpouring of frustration and anger towards mainstream political parties.
The movement calls itself “the first and only political party based on online participation and direct democracy.” Using an internet portal called Rousseau, M5S uses online votes of members to decide its policies, draft legislation and candidates.
M5S is proposing a universal basic income of €780 ($963) a month for those living in poverty.
M5S supports a hotchpotch of policies from across the political spectrum and has gained a reputation for political flip-flopping, leading their critics to brand them as immature and incompetent. The party had promised its supporters a referendum on leaving the eurozone, but has had a change of heart in recent months.
M5S is currently projected to be the single party with the largest share of votes in the election. You can read more about its moment of truth here:
The complicated picture in Italy has had a knock-on effect on the markets.
Hello, it’s Bonnie here taking over the blog from Jon. As he said, nothing is certain at this stage and it won’t be for some time. But the broad theme based on projections is that it has been a good night so far for populist, anti-establishment parties and a bad one for the incumbent centre left.
It looks like we’re in for a long night, and very probably several long weeks of coalition talks:
I’m handing this live blog over now to my colleague Bonnie Malkin who will take you through to the European morning. Thanks for staying with us.
“Better a pig than a fascist” reads the poster on display in a radical left community centre in Palermo, Sicily, where antifascists are awaiting the poll’s results, writes Lorenzo Tondo.
Political violence has been increasing in Italy in recent weeks between fascists and leftwing activists, including an attack on one of the leaders of the far-right group Forza Nuova in Palermo.
“Like in other countries across Europe, the right wing is taking over,” said Tommaso Mazzara, 30, a radical left activist in Palermo. “If M5S wins they are going to get the support of the right to stay in power. And that’s a huge problem.’’
Irene Russotto, 28, a medical student, said: “These exit polls are dramatic. If M5Stars wins the elections, I don’t think they are going to have the political experience to govern. The country is heading dangerously towards the radical right.’’
In Rome, Stephanie Kirchgaessner has been speaking to a top election expert, Giovanni Orsina from Luiss University, who cautions that it is far early to make any bold predictions and still believes a hung parliament is the most likely outcome.
But Orsina believes the populists have done better than expected:
What is quite clear is that the centre left were punished. Italy has made real gains in the economy and in unemployment, but voters did not buy it. At least, not a majority of them.
The leader of the far-right La Liga, Matteo Salvini, has tweeted his initial reaction to the election results: “Thank you.”
The state broadcaster Rai is venturing some early seat projections for the Italian parliament. They show Berlusconi’s rightwing alliance clearly ahead, followed by Five Star Movement and Renzi’s centre left trailing:
But if a tie-up between the Five Star Movement and the far-right Lega looks potentially possible, so equally, as John Hooper points out, does an alliance between the centre left and M5S – even if the anti-establishment party has largely ruled out entering into coalitions with anybody else:
Here is Guardian Rome bureau chief Stephanie Kirchgaessner’s first considered take on the confused, and confusing, early picture emerging from this election:
About 50% of Italians who voted in national elections on Sunday supported populist parties that were once considered fringe, but victory still looked within reach for a coalition headed by Silvio Berlusconi, according to early election polls.
While it was still far too early to predict whether the 81-year-old’s centre right coalition would have enough support to cross the threshold to victory, the exit polls indicated that the former prime minister could clinch a win following a campaign that promised a tough new approach to the migrant crisis.
Regardless of the final outcome, the exit polls appeared to reveal a monumental shift in a majority of Italian voters, who have traditionally sided with big mainstream parties.
The Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment party that was founded by former comedian Beppe Grillo and has voiced deep scepticism about the euro and Italy’s role in Nata, appeared to have won between 29-31% of the votes, according to the early exit polls.
It seems one possible coalition – and not completely outlandish, given that it looks like around 50% of voters have cast their ballots for populist, anti-establishment and/or far-right parties – could be the anti-immigration La Lega, anti-establishment Five Star, and nationalist Brothers of Italy.
That would shake things up.
Another number to watch, should Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance win the day: will his major ally, La Lega, take more votes than Forza Italia? The exit polls, unreliable as we must stress they are, suggest that might be the case.
And once again, a note of caution. The night is yet young, and a lot can and, most likely, will change:
Hot takes on what to make of the early polls (bearing in mind exit polls last time around were up to seven points adrift of the final results), from Stephanie Kirschgaessner and the Economist’s John Hooper in Rome:
In Ballarò, a mafia stronghold market area in the historic centre of Palermo, mostly populated by migrants, asylum seekers anxiously awaited the poll’s results, writes Lorenzo Tondo.
The electoral campaign has been bad news for hundreds of young Africans, as the far-right parties have pledged to kick them out of the country. The campaign has been marked by episodes of racism and political violence unseen in Italy since the 1970s, including the shooting of six migrants.
Former PM Silvio Berlusconi pledged to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from Italy, a “social bomb ready to explode”. Abdul Rahman, 27, from Gambia, said if the right wins, “it is going to be a disaster for us. We came here for a new start. If they win it’s the begin of the end.’’
The campaign has been marked by episodes of racism and political violence unseen in Italy since the 1970s, including the shooting of six migrants, an act described by the nationalist perpetrator as revenge for the murder of an Italian woman, allegedly by a migrant.
“I’ve just got my refugee status, and now I’m afraid to lose it,” said Mohammed, 24, from Egypt. Mamaodu, 20, from Senegal, added: “What do I expect from the elections if the right wins? I have my suitcase ready at home.”
Italy’s national public broadcaster, Rai, has roughly comparable numbers in its first exit poll:
Forza Italia 13-16%
Early exit poll: no overall majority; M5S largest party
Polls have now closed in Italy’s general elections and the first exit polls show the anti-establishment Five Star Movement is the largest single party by a wide margin, with 28%-30% of the vote.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is on 13.5%-15.5%, and the far-right League – his allies – on 12.3%-14.3%
Exit polls are expected imminently. Here’s another pundit’s take on what to watch out for:
To which is swiftly added:
As soon as the exit polls are out, the calculating will begin. In theory, a wide variety of combinations are possible to form Italy’s next government, but as Stephanie Kirchgaessner notes, some are more possible than others.
Bear in mind that the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has been forecast to finish as the largest single party on 25-27% of the vote, with the rightwing coalition between Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the anti-immigration La Lega (League) and its smaller far-right allies on course to be the largest bloc – but still short of an outright majority.
While it is widely expected to fare badly, Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic party (PD) is still part of the calculations:
With just over half an hour to go until polls close, a useful reminder from the Guardian’s Rome bureau chief Stephanie Kirchgaessner that Italy’s exit polls have not always been very reliable – and with a new electoral system to contend with, they may be even less so:
Berlusconi was confronted with by a Femen activist as he arrived to cast his ballot at a Milan polling station earlier today, writes Angela Giuffrida.
Named as Melodie Mousavi Nameghi, a 29-year-old from France, the topless protestor jumped on top of a table and shouted: “Berlusconi, your time has run out!”
She was detained by police and charged with resisting arrest and disturbing an election. Berlusconi told reporters:
It was an apparition, I don’t know what happened, it was a ghost… I don’t know, I didn’t see anything. So my time is up? Maybe she wanted to say I had reached the end of the queue.
Just under an hour from the first exit polls, a brief reminder of who is standing and what they have – in some cases, you would have to say somewhat rashly – been promising Italy’s voters:
Centre-right: Forza Italia, led by four-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, aims to introduce a “parallel currency” for domestic use, keeping the euro for international trade; have a single, flat rate income tax for companies and individuals; abolish housing, inheritance and road tax; double the minimum pension; introduce a minimum income of €1,000 a month for all and block new immigrant arrivals.
Radical right: The League (formerly the Northern League), led by Matteo Salvini, would also introduce a parallel currency; abolish the EU’s fiscal compact; bring in a flat tax for all at 15%; allow earlier retirement; repatriate 100,000 illegal immigrants a year; and reopen Italy’s brothels. Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, is a southern equivalent of the League with neofascist roots and similar policies.
Anti-establishment: The Five Star Movement, led by 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, proposes a minimum monthly income of €780; raising the budget deficit; repealing 400 “useless” laws including labour and pension reforms to allow earlier retirement and make firing harder; raising taxes on energy companies and improving relations with Russia.
Centre-left: The Democratic party, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, proposes an increase in the minimum wage; negotiating to abolish the fiscal compact and raising the budget deficit to 3% of GDP so as to cut taxes and increase investment.
Left: Free and Equal is led by Pietro Grasso, and is a new party uniting smaller groups that left Renzi’s Democratic party. It proposes repealing labour and pension reforms and boosting public spending.
The 2018 elections are taking place under a new and untested electoral law that has created a mixed system in which just over a third of parliamentarians in the upper and lower house are elected by first-past-the-post (FPTP), and two-thirds by proportional representation (PR) via party lists.
Voters get two slips, one for each house, and can put one cross on each that will count for both the FPTP and PR elements. Candidates can stand in an FPTP ballot in one constituency, but also be on a party PR list in up to five constituencies.
As the former New York Times Rome bureau chief notes, the new ballot papers are leading to some confusion:
Bad weather has hit Italy as hard as elsewhere in Europe over the past few days, but there’s at least one voter determined not to let snow get the better of her:
Alberto Nardelli of Buzzfeed News reckons it’s going to be a long and probably eventful night, and he’s not the only one.
One of the key things this Italian election is likely to test is Europe’s continuing appetite, after strong performances last year by France’s Front National and Germany’s AfD, for anti-establishment and nation-first populist parties:
The views of a few of Italy’s many overseas voters, collected by Angela Giuffrida and Lorenzo Tondo:
Alberto Montalbano, London:
I feel trapped between a rock and a hard place. I live in a country that voted to oust me, while my birthplace is swarming with populists talking tough about immigration. Italy has seen a large exodus of people in the past decade, not to mention the Italians who left in their millions in the last two centuries. What are they talking about? So I voted for the Democratic party. It’s not perfect, but it’s the only Europhile party left. For good or bad Europe is the future.
Marco Barsotti, Nice:
The elections will probably result in a difficult country to govern. But not having a strong government may be an advantage, as the economy would then be capable of developing without obstacles. Italy wouldn’t be alone in that respect: think about Belgium, which in 2010 had no government for 589 days without big problems.
Luca Guerreschi, Berlin:
Sometimes, Italians’ worst nightmares return: on TV, Berlusconi is the protagonist; on the streets, the fascists show their fierce face. I’m worried; I want to wake up to see a Jacobin, communist Italy – this is the Italy that those who fought in the resistance wanted, and it’s what we want too.
The leader of the far-right, anti-immigrant League (formerly the Northern League) has been tweeting confidently that the political aspirations of centre-left Democratic party leader Matteo Renzi will soon have melted like the snow:
Guardian correspondent Angela Giuffrida has this – as she notes – rather out of focus shot of a Rome polling station earlier this evening where voters spent upwards of two hours queuing to cast their ballots:
Turnout at 7pm in Italy was estimated at around 58%, relatively low historically. As La Repubblica journalist Antonello Guerrero explains, that could translate into a final turnout of less than 70% – lower than in 2006, 2008 and 2013.
Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage as Italy goes to the polls in one of its most uncertain general elections in many years.
Partly, that uncertainty is because voting is taking place under a new and as yet untested electoral law. Partly, it’s because as many as 30% of voters were still undecided this week.
And partly it’s because polls have long predicted the election will will result in a hung parliament, leading to possibly months of haggling to form a new coalition government.
Italy’s 46 million voters are fed up with a political class seemingly unable to do anything about Italy’s persistent problems: high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, corruption and a seemingly unending migration crisis.
Their vote could re-establish the veteran former prime minister and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, 81, as the dominant force in Italian politics (even though he is barred from standing himself because of a tax fraud conviction).
It could show surging support for two populist parties, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (likely to emerge as the largest single party), and the far-right, nativist La Lega, a key member of Berlusconi’s rightwing coalition.
Polls in Europe’s fourth largest economy opened at 7am and will close at 11pm (2200 GMT), with early exit polls expected soon after. Final results are not likely until early morning.
Stay with us for the latest news and reaction – including on-the-spot reports from Guardian writers Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Angela Giuffrida and Lorenzo Tondo – through the night.
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