Italy: Requiem for the Second Republic

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1598 ... May 2, 2018

Italy: Requiem for the Second Republic

Steve Hellman

The writing had been on the wall for some time, but the outcome of the Italian election of March 4 shocked almost everyone by the extent to which the status quo was upended. The governing center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) was humiliated: its share of the vote fell nearly 7% compared to the previous general election in 2013 to just under 19%; its secretary, Matteo Renzi, would soon resign his post. The other big loser was Silvio Berlusconi, the dominant figure on the center-right for a generation. His party, Forza Italia (FI, Go Italy!) plunged from 21.6% to 14% and was displaced within the coalition by the increasingly xenophobic, often racist Lega (The League, formerly the... Lega Nord or Northern League), which more than quadrupled its share of the vote since 2013, from 4.1% to 17.4%. Over the same period the Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S, Five Star Movement) had drawn 25.6% of the vote in its maiden appearance in 2013. But back then, the electoral law in force gave the center-left an artificial majority, barely averting parliamentary paralysis. In 2018, despite a new law designed to marginalize it, the M5S and its telegenic new 31-year-old standard-bearer, Luigi Di Maio, raked in 32.7% of the vote, making it Italy’s largest party by far.

It is hard to overstate the importance of these developments. In the early 1990s external events (the end of the Soviet Union and the acceleration of European integration) and internal ones (corruption scandals and the self-dissolution of the Italian Communist Party, PCI) combined to bring down the party system that had dominated Italian politics since the end of World War II. Instead of one bloc, the Christian Democrats (Democrazia Cristiana, DC) and their much smaller allies, permanently in power, while a Communist-led left was permanently relegated to the opposition, it was now possible to imagine left and right governments alternating in power, which the logic of the cold war had blocked for nearly half a century.

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