After twenty years of governments led by none other than Silvio Berlusconi, many foreign newspapers started suggesting that another man was about to imitate Berlusconi’s enormous political success: Matteo Renzi. At the time, the June 2014 European elections had widely confirmed Renzi’s party, Partito Democratico (PD), as the most important political force in the nation. PD lead with 40,8%, while Movimento 5 Stelle trailed in second place with only 21,1%. Immediately after Renzi caused the previous government to fall, these elections were the first opportunity he had to make his national success more than just a prediction from the polls.
With this huge success under his belt, he felt confident enough to promise changes: “100 days to change the country: politics, employment, public administration.”
Since then he has made many promises, including plans to cut energy costs and improve legislation concerning pregnant women who work. He also promised to create a new work code within the next eight months, pay off state debts to suppliers, and much more. In the end, none of these promises were kept. Many of his other promises weren’t totally broken, but had not been respected fully either.
However, he did initiate a number of reforms such as the one he called the “Jobs Act”, which some say resulted in the lowering of the unemployment rate (from 13,2% to 11,5%) – although his act also coincided with the growth of the part-time employee rate, as some workers’ unions highlighted. The school reform – Buona scuola, or good school – is still being debated nationally as some teachers’ unions assert, for example, that the investments made came from cuts in other areas of school expenditure. The party’s bank scandals did not help either, leaving the population with a feeling of dissatisfaction about the energetic man who has made so many statements without seeming to get anywhere.
His plan was to look like a youthful, modern man that the rest of the population can relate to – a gust of fresh air in the aging political community, which seems to be inadequate in winning the public nowadays. During the latest local elections, a significant portion of the votes were in favour of the second most important political force: the Movimento 5 stelle, which makes today’s Italian political landscape ideologically unclear. In fact, the leftist PD itself is divided between Renzi and the other members, with Renzi making many reforms that were heavily criticized by unions within the party that are still anchored to the left wing tradition.
Meanwhile, the decline in Berlusconi’s fame due to his failures in foreign politics and his troubles with justice led to the rebirth of Forza Italia and a strong growth of Lega Nord – a right-wing party who aims to divide the industrial north and the poorer south. The latter, in particular, elected new leaders in 2013, with Salvini emerging and distancing Lega Nord from its original ideals so that it could start getting votes from the south as well.
When Berlusconi was fully in power, his influence on the Italian right had led Lega Nord to be a small – yet important – party. Since Berlusconi’s fall, the right-wing parties have been looking for a new leader – a role that Salvini has wanted to fill since he won over his party election. To this day, nobody from the right seems to have had success yet as they have not been able to get Forza Italia under their influence, leading to two parties that, divided, can no longer have much leverage over Italian politics. This role may soon be filled by Movimento 5 Stelle instead.
Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) was born as an answer to the demand for a new political class formed by many Italians. Seen at first as a protest movement, it has gained more and more votes, especially as Renzi’s government seems to be failing. Since its inception, it has smartly avoided standing for a right or left ideology, instead depicting itself as an alternative. In the last local election, Rome and Turin gained two female mayors from this party, beating candidates backed up by PD.
Two candidates from the PD won the mayorship in Milan and Bologna; The first due to the good governance in Milan and the second due to a still controversial election. In fact, the other candidate that came second was from Lega Nord and lost with 45.4% against 54.6%, a surprising number of votes to a right wing politician in a city called “La Rossa” (=The Red), for its communist tradition. Naples brought another win for a leftist, De Magistris, although he has made many statements against Renzi.
These local elections gave the impression of an Italian population that is increasingly outspoken against the current establishment. This phenomenon is also linked, in a much smaller scale, to the steady growth of neo-fascist groups that support Lega Nord, at times, but also think that the party is “too soft”. Still, of the 1342 municipalities that voted, a very large number voted for leftist liste civiche (=civil lists), groups created supporting a candidate with no direct connection with the main national parties.
Thus, Italy remains a leftist country thanks to the division within the right and the possibility of creating local lists. The main politicians remain Matteo Renzi and Matteo Salvini, with many people working behind M5S, in particular Luigi Di Maio and Alessandro Di Battista. M5S’s co-founder, Beppe Grillo, lost the command he had over the party while the other founder, Gianroberto Casaleggio, passed away recently. Attributing the incredible growth of M5S to votes of protest may be wrong, though, since both candidates are starting to name people that seem reasonable for their city halls. October 2016 seems likely to be the month in which we will understand more of today’s politics with the referendum on the senate reform: Renzi promised to resign if the reform does not pass.