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Preliminary Results: Italy's Center-Right Coalition Leads After Election


We do not have final results from Italy's election, but we do know enough to say that about half of all voters leaned rightward. They voted for euroskeptic parties that do not like the European Union or for far-right parties. The governing center-left Democratic Party suffered a major defeat. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli's on the line from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.


INSKEEP: So who are the big winners here?

POGGIOLI: Well, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement is the single party with the most votes, more than 31 percent. It was able to tap into, you know, a widespread anger over Italy's sluggish economy, the migrant surge and resentment toward loss of sovereignty to the European Union. The party has been running Rome and some other cities with disastrous results. Nevertheless, it swept the entire south of the country and large parts of the center. The other winner is the far-right League, which scored big in the north. It ran as part of a center-right coalition. And it even surpassed its partner, the party run by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The League got 18 percent. Berlusconi's party fell to under 14 percent. The League ran on a virulently anti-immigrant, fear-mongering campaign. It blamed the arrival of more than 600,000 migrants in four years to the outgoing center-left government. And one of its slogans was I want the Italy my grandparents left me.

INSKEEP: OK. So make the Roman Empire great again - I get that part. The other part about the euroskeptic parties, how skeptical are they exactly? Are we talking about parties that would actually want to take Italy out of the European Union like Britain did?

POGGIOLI: No, no - they've been - they've - in the past, both parties have called for a referendum on whether Italy should remain in the single currency eurozone, although they sort of peddled back that during the campaign. But they have no interest in a united Europe. The League's slogan is Italians first. And both Five Star and the League are pro-Russia. So should they end up governing, that could also have a negative impact on Italy's traditional pro-Atlantic stance and its relations with the United States. But, you know, the European Union, Italy's partners, are going to have to do some soul-searching about leaving Italy on its own to absorb hundreds of thousands of migrants.

INSKEEP: Well, Sylvia, what happens now? Because it doesn't sound like any party has a majority here, right?

POGGIOLI: Well, we won't know - exactly, none of them has enough to govern alone. And we won't know, really, what's going to happen for quite a few weeks. First, the Parliament has to elect the Senate and House speakers. Then the president of Italy will entrust someone with the task to try to form a coalition. That could be the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, whose center-right coalition won 37 percent. Or it could be Five Star's Luigi De Mayo as leader of the single biggest party. The problem is Five Star rejects power sharing. We'll see if that changes. If no one can form a government, it's possible another election will come pretty soon.

But, you know, that's not likely to stop the populist wave. A sign of what's at stake here was the presence in Rome this weekend of Steve Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist until last summer. Before the vote, he was quoted as saying "the Italian people have gone farther in a shorter period of time than the British did for Brexit and the Americans did for Trump. Italy is the leader." Now, this is how one woman I know reacted. She said oh, yes, Italy is always ahead of the others, we created fascism, the biggest communist party in the West and now populists are taking over.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.