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NIAS Europe Studies
Italy: Three factors about its current political instability

  Emmanuel Selva Royan

The Prime minister’s resignation reveals the complex nature of Italy’s political system

On 21 July, Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella accepted prime minister Mario Draghi’s resignation after rejecting it earlier. His resignation follows the withdrawal of support by the Five Star Movement, a major coalition party, on the vote of confidence. Before his resignation, the leaders of the two right-wing parties that make up Draghi’s cabinet, Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini of the League party declared that they would no longer work with the Five Star Movement. President Mattarella has assigned Draghi to act as a caretaker of the government until the upcoming snap election on 25 September.

This commentary looks at three issues

First, Italy’s complex political system makes coalition governments less stable. Italy’s parliament has a bicameral legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, which has 630 members, and the Senate with 315 members. Italians have two votes, one for each house. 37 per cent of the seats in each house will be directly elected using the first-past-the-post method, and 64 per cent will be distributed proportionally. Minor parties have a better chance of representation in Italy because it utilizes proportional representation and does not require a minimum percentage of the total vote to win seats.

The original intent of the system was to prevent the likelihood of one party or leader acquiring an excessive amount of power. A first-past-the-post component and thresholds of three per cent for individual parties and ten per cent for coalitions were introduced by the electoral law 2018, increasing the incentive for coalition formation. Grand coalitions, or groups of parties from several political spheres that come together after the vote, have governed Italy. Such coalitions frequently struggle to reach a consensus on legislation and frequently result in conflicts that cause governments to fall because the parties involved typically hold extremely divergent viewpoints.

As a result, coalition governments are more susceptible to crises and opportunism as junior partners use threats to dissolve the governments and, in some cases, actual implementations to gain greater power or cabinet seats.

Second, the failure in the technocratic leadership and public discontent. Technocracy’s fundamental premise is that there is only one method to solve any given issue, and experts are the only ones who understand how to do it. This conception does not allow for disagreement or compromise between competing interests and values, which is the core of political parties meant to represent society's various facets. Since 1993, Draghi was the fourth technocrat to serve as the head of government. He succeeds Mario Monti, a former European Commission member who served as prime minister from 2011 to 2013. Before him stood Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, a former governor of the Bank of Italy, and Lamberto Dini, a former executive director of the International Monetary Fund. Italy’s technocratic leadership over the years has neither resolved the economic issues nor political instability. The citizens were wary of technocrats as they felt that they did not directly represent them. Due to the discontent among people following two years of technocratic rule, the populist Five Star Movement emerged with a commitment to ‘direct democracy. This signaled the beginning of several years of ineffective governance and served as a clear warning of rising dissatisfaction among the people with how the Italian democracy was functioning.

Third, is the unreliability of the Five Star Movement party. The Five Star Movement party makes up the largest coalition ally of the government and holds significant votes. The party initially supported Draghi’s EUR 23 billion decrees on Economic aid for social welfare and businesses. However, the Five Star Movement declined to vote on the bill and presented Draghi with a nine-point list of demands, which included a commitment to basic income and minimum wage. After complaining that his party's supporters had been treated disrespectfully and ignored by other coalition parties. Such claims and unreliability of the party made other coalition parties no longer work with the Movement, leading to the collapse.

What next for Italy?
First, the snap elections. POLITICO’s opinion polls place the right-wing parties in the lead to winning the elections. The Brothers of Italy party, led by Giorgia Meloni is leading the polls with 23 per cent. Therefore, she will likely ally with the other two right parties, Forza Italia and the League parties led by Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini. Who share the same sentiments against migration, abortion, and sexual rights. One point behind Meloni is the Democratic party led by Enrico Letta. He may partner with the populist Five Star Movement party and other center-left parties to stand a chance against the right.

Second is the receiving of EU funds. Before his resignation, Draghi was successful in getting the EU to approve Italy's National Recovery and Resilience Plan to receive its COVID-19 and economy recovery funds. However, the EU will only release the funds in tranches to the country under the condition that the government is stable to avoid mishandling and corruption. Italy’s economic and social security is entirely dependent upon the political stability of the upcoming government. The government also faces the challenge of drafting the annual budget for 2023 within weeks.

Third, sentiments towards the Ukraine war. All the major right parties have condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and pledged to continue sending arms to Ukraine. Meloni has, in fact, added arming Ukraine in her manifesto for the election campaign. However, the Five Star Movement party refuses to arm Ukraine stating that it only prolongs the war and pushes for more diplomatic measures to resolve the issue. The different facets of the crises, including the political, economic, and climate change aspects (referring to the region's increasing heatwaves and wildfires), could distract Italy's assistance to Ukraine.


About the author

Emmanuel Royan is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.  As part of Europe Studies program, he looks into developments of the Baltic states, and Southern European countries, and follows developments in the Ukraine war.

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