• Local Elections in Italy
  • Abstentionism the Biggest Winner

  • By Roberto Morea | 05 Jul 17 | Posted under: Italy , Elections
  • On the left, the results of June’s local elections show that independent civic lists, in which more radical proposals are put forwards, can have gratifying outcomes. More generally, the results highlight an opportunity to fill a space left by both the decline of the PD and a lack of attraction towards the Five Star Movement.

    One of the most notable outcomes, however, is the return of Berlusconi and his political weight.

    At the polls, the recent local elections saw the large majority of cities reach a second round of voting. The mayors were unable to obtain the absolute majority needed to be elected after the first round. Turnout at the ballot box stood at 58% of the 9 million registered voters during the first round and 46% in the second round.

    It is a figure that continues to fall compared with 66% at the 2012 local elections. As ever, these elections rely on a direct relationship between the elected and the voters. With them depending less on national political proposals, they have a low media impact.

    Changing Public Attitude

    The most relevant political result to emerge involved the M5S (Five Star Movement). On the up on a national scale until today, the party has been drastically brought back down to earth. 

    In many cases, party leader Beppe Grillo’s list obtained results of around 5 or 6%. There was a significant result in Parma, where the outgoing mayor had been the M5S’s first elected mayor. Expelled almost immediately after his election, he led an independent civic list showing him support and came out on top in the run-off against the centre-left candidate. The other significant result came in Genoa, where the selection of the candidate for mayor had been made via a click in an online vote. This choice was directly overthrown by Beppe Grillo, who went with another candidate instead. It was an incident that cost the Five Star Movement at least some of the voters’ trust. A run-off between the centre-right and centre-left resulted in victory for the centre-right, following a historic period of left-wing leadership for the city. In wider terms, a certain lack of trust towards the M5S can be felt in the air. This also comes in light of the results of their administrative experiences in various regions.

    Democratic Party Failure

    It isn’t going any better for the PD (Democratic Party) who lost the majority of their challenges. In the first round, they had 29 mayors elected and went to the second round in 87 cities. But, they lost dramatically in the large majority of cases against centre-right candidates, as in Genoa, Piacenza and L’Aquila, or against the (few) Five Star candidates, like in Carrara and Guidonia. For Matteo Renzi, these elections certainly do not represent a victory, also because in many cases the PD had to present itself as part of a coalition with independent civic lists or those of the left against his leadership in order to stand a chance at winning. The clearest case in point is that in Palermo where the PD was part of a coalition which supported the outgoing mayor Leoluca Orlando (a renowned independent candidate who governed Palermo for many years) and gathered an overwhelming consensus.

    The PD’s defeat has caused a confrontation within the party itself. Even important representatives are beginning to consider potential coalitions, calling into question the Party Secretary’s leadership and his candidacy for Prime Minister. They are looking for a back-up in the form of Massimo D’Alema & Co. The left’s manoeuvres to offer an alternative to the PD began on 1 July with former mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia’s proposal to pave the way for the progressives. Ex-PD members, such as former party secretaries Pier Luigi Bersani and D’Alema, are looking to him for action.

    The Right on the Rise

    To the right, the two forces of the Lega (Northern League) and Berlusconi supporters are celebrating their successes. Berlusconi, meanwhile, is distancing himself from post-electoral theories of an agreement with Renzi. Perhaps a temporary tactical move, but the results do favour a right-wing coalition. That said, on many fronts, the two forces are deeply divided in their core founding principles. One of the most notable outcomes, however, is the return of Berlusconi and his political weight.

    Instability and Future Uncertainty

    All this while the debate surrounding the new electoral law (current legislation has been declared anti-constitutional in some respects) has been postponed until September, bestowing upon Italians a summer of unstable certainty.

    On the left, the results show that independent civic lists, in which more radical proposals are put forwards, can have gratifying outcomes like in Padua. More generally, the results highlight an opportunity to fill a space left by both the decline of the PD and a lack of attraction towards the Five Star Movement.

    To this regard, the appeal by two prominent figures in the referendum campaign, Anna Falcone and Tomaso Montanari, to bring together the committees and political forces that had supported it, resulted in a considerable success. An assembly held on 18 June launched a process which it seems could open the way for an independent left, distancing itself from the centre-left, at the national elections. The political space is clear to see, represented mainly in the form of widespread abstentionism, which still appears to be Italy’s biggest party.


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