This time last year, Italy’s political system suffered dramatic changes when, for the first time since the beginning of its democracy, a coalition of ultra nationalist parties won. The Five Star movement, led by Luigi Di Maio, and The League (La Lega), led by Matteo Salvini effectively took power in in June of 2018. This rise of power came about despite being rejected by the current president, Sergio Mattarella, who argued that this coalition was not what was best for the nations and its citizens. As part of the definition of democracy, as told by Robert Dahl and later referenced by Phillippe Schmitter and Terry Karl, is that is must have seven things: (1) Elected officials, (2) free, fair & frequent elections, (3) freedom of citizens to run for office, (4) freedom of expression, (5) alternative sources of information, (6) associational autonomy, and (7) inclusive citizenship. With the lack of free, fair, and frequent elections as and the attempt to exercise excessive power from the executive branch, one begs to question the state of Italian democracy, where it’s heading, and what that means for the rest of the European states.
Before one can know what’s to come, one must acknowledge what has once been. With the President’s strong and disapproving opinion on the two new parties in power, one asks what led them to be elected in the first place. Soon after Italy’s First Republic was created in 1946, as a result of Benito Mussolini’s demise at the end of World War II, the state’s political system became overcome by corruption from the Italian Mafia. This mass corruption led to voter fraud, fixed elections, and ultimately distrust of the government amongst citizens. As a result of this, the citizens ceased voting in the hopes that the lack of voter turnout would elicit change. The voter’s actions, as well as mass violence throughout the country, resulted in a huge investigation into the Italian government as well as the different political parties throughout the state. This period of corruption is well known throughout Europe as the Tangentopoli. In the late 1990s, Mani Pulite, finally brought Tangentopoli to an end, and with it, the First Republic. The Second Republic was then founded, and though it lacked any major constitutional changes, it stripped Italy of its old political parties with the hopes that the corruption would end. However, it wasn’t long until Italian politics fell into its old ways resulting once again in corruption, fixed elections, and distrust in the government amongst citizens. However, in March of 2018, the citizens of Italy choose to fight against the system and swing the vote to two ultra-right nationalist parties- The Five Star Movement and The League in the hopes that the state would finally see change.
The two new parties’ in Italy’s political scene based their campaigns off a main platform of anti-immigration, with plans to deport over 600 thousand migrants. The Five Star Movement has also gained a homophobic reputation as they withdrew their parliamentary support of gay civil unions as well as a highly controversial anti-euro economic stance. The League on the other hand focuses on giving the regions of Italy, specifically those of the north, more power as well as allowing them to retain the tax revenue that they generate. In addition , they plan to legalize and tax prostitution, begin free state-founded day care, and in addition to deporting immigrants, they denied a bill that would allow citizenship “to those born and schooled in Italy with foreign parents.”
Despite their quick rise, one of the parties has begun to fall just as quickly. The Five Star movement has seen major declines in recent polls as compared to The League, which appears to be skyrocketing. The difference in parties ultimately lies in their leaders. The League has prevailed due to the charismatic, old tv star, Matteo Salvini who has been referred to as the Italian Trump. From an American stand point, there are some alarming connections between Trump and Salvini, apart from their television start. The two both focus their policies on issues of limiting immigration, raising the economy, and discriminatory ideas (i.e. racism). Despite his lack of ethical clarity, it appears that Salvini will be a member of the Italian political system, whether Di Maio of The Five Star Movement is beside him or not.
As for the rest of the Europe, it’ll be interesting to see the effects that Italy will have on other European States. In 2017, both Angela Markel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France, maintained power in their countries with their left leaning ideals. However, as the elections approach in May of 2019, France is struck with fear as the “yellow vest” movement has been allied with Salvini’s party, The League, who is backing Marie Le Pen, a far-right leader who has the potential to take power in the upcoming months. As for other states in Europe, Italy has appeared to be forming strong connections with other strong-right regimes such as Russia and Hungary. It’s safe to say, that this is only the beginning for the erosion that’s to come.
*Photo by Stephane Peray, “Italian Democracy” (The Cagle), Creative Commons Zero license.*