On March 4, 2018, the Italian people voted their power into the hands of populists. However, no party or coalition won a big enough share of votes to rule the Parliament alone, so the government will now face a political deadlock. This deadlock will last until the negotiations between different groups and their policies are agreed upon; depending on the cooperation, this can be weeks, or even months. The Italian people not trusting their government is the cause to this rise in populism – a philosophy of supporting the ordinary person in their fight against the political elite. A stagnated economy, an unemployment rate that is not drastically changing, resentment towards the European Union and an influx of migrants are the main reasons the Italian people are skeptic of the current political system. A rise in populism can only mean one thing – a decline in democracy.
In this recent election, the current ruling party, The Democratic Party, took a huge hit and lost most of their power. The two big winners of the election were the 5-Star Movement and The League. The 5-Star Movement won with flying colors in the South, whereas the far-right League captured the votes of the Northerners. The 5-Star Movement ran with the promises to help the working class – “enhance[ing] workers’ rights, free trade union representation, worker participation in decision-making and a shorter working day” – and to help those in the lower class by giving monthly allowance to Italian households under the poverty line. The League formed a coalition with the Forza Party and ran with the platform of anti-immigrant, anti-European, and “overtly racist slogans”. Both of these platforms are not a typical party platform, but they do appeal to the ordinary citizen or a populist. With the results of the election strongly supporting these two parties – and overtly, populism – it is evident democracy is sharply declining.
The Democratic Party making and breaking promises led to the rise in populism. Italy has always been a destination for immigrants, legal or illegal, because of its location. Migrants travel across the sea and land on the southern coasts of Italy where they begin a new life. Since the people of Italy were dissatisfied with this, the government “sought to strike a balance between a humane response and enforcement of its borders”. However, the actions of the government did not appease the people. Italy begged other European countries to help protect the seas and help house the migrants, but the neighboring countries responded by protecting their own borders, but not helping Italy. This action strengthened the growing resentment towards the European Union and a unified-Europe. Along with the migrants and indignation towards neighboring countries, the economy was not improving. The overall unemployment rate was slowly decreasing, but the number of young Italians unemployed was at a shocking 19.9%. The ordinary person did not feel supported by the government, resulting in a system filled with rage and a rise towards populism. The ordinary man felt cheated by the system, so the only answer is to change the system – replace the political elite with the ordinary people.
The advancement of populism pairs with the regression of democracy. In a democracy, there are checks and balances, among other systems, in place to ensure that one person, or branch, cannot have all the power. In populism, a person in power works for their power personally, not through institutions, so those checks and balances will get in the way. A populist wants personal control so the government runs how they, and the ordinary people who support them, would want. Therefore, “populist leaders strive to weaken constitutional checks and balances” and wishes to control the independent agencies to obtain political hegemony. This is exactly what will happen in Europe if the Parliament is mainly populist parties. Leaders will start seeking for more individual political power and the democratic institutions will start disappearing. Once populism is in, democracy is out.
Although populism is not a new concept in Italy, after this election – it will be the most prevalent idea. Those whom voted the populists into power, and even those whom did not, will soon be overwhelmed with the leader, and their corresponding party, having control over the media. The media will portray the leader as a hero, gaining support and recharging loyalty, hiding the chaos of being in political power and the individualist power seeking tendencies. Populist leaders change the government and the regulations to favor the party in power and limit the ability of free and fair elections – another democratic institution. Overtime, populism will erode democratic ideals, but in the short-run it seems pleasing. Italian voters, thinking about the present and not the future, voted to erode democracy on March 4, 2018.
*Photo by Demotix/eidon Photographers, “Five Star Movement Leader, Beppe Grillo” (openDemocracy).