Italy heading for politically uncertain times

In Italy the voices calling for the parliamentary elections to be brought forward to the autumn of this year are growing far louder again. It is not only the Chairman of the Social Democrats (PD), Renzi, but also the left-wing populist Five-Star Movement (M5S) that are advocating elections as early as September 2017. Only a few days ago Renzi publicly declared that he did not assume that the Italians would go to the ballot box before the regular date set for the election. The sudden change of mind can be attributed to the emerging breakthrough in the negotiations between Renzi and former Prime Minister and Forza-Italia party head Berlusconi as regards a new electoral law. Both former prime ministers envisage elections to both houses being based purely on proportional representation with a five-percent threshold clause, which would above all be to the detriment of the smaller parties. There is already speculation that Renzi and Berlusconi are busy trying to bang together a Grand Coalition, putting Renzi back in power and helping Forza Italia avert the threat of a loss in its significance in the face of modest opinion polls.

The desire to go to the ballot box shortly after the summer recess is not something everyone is happy with. Among the ranks of the ruling PD there are those who doubt whether it makes tactical sense to vote as early as possible. The PD and M5S are neck to neck in the polls, although the Social Democrats’ popularity has recently increased. An alliance with Berlusconi would at any rate only be something the left wing of the PD would at best tolerate with reservations. The far greater obstacle would probably be whether a new electoral law can be pushed through parliament before the summer recess. Italian President Mattarella has gone on the record saying such a reform would be the precondition for him to consider dissolving parliament. The President has also indicated that he currently considers the government able to act and also that the cornerstones of the 2018 budget must be in place before early elections can be called. Since parliamentary activity and in part public life in Italy ceases in August with the summer recess, a September election would seem ambitious from today’s viewpoint. It is definitely possible that a compromise would be that the Italians first go to the polls in the late autumn or at year-end if Mattarella does not thwart Renzi’s plans and insist on elections in early 2018.

The most recent political developments in Italy show that Renzi is prepared to really gamble to return to the head of government as soon as possible. While the planned threshold clause would lower the chances of possible partners for the M5S making it into parliament, it is essentially not clear how well the left-wing populists will actually perform and whether they would not also be prepared to enter into coalition with a nationalist party such as the Lega Nord. At any rate, one thing is certain at this point in time: Italy is once again heading for politically uncertain times.


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