March 5, 2018 / 4:38 PM / 8 months ago

Breakingviews - Election leaves Italy with only radical options

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi sits next to Northern League leader Matteo Salvini during a meeting in Rome, Italy, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi - RC1E61F458B0

MILAN (Reuters Breakingviews) - A landmark national election leaves Italy with only radical options. An anti-establishment surge has crushed the chances of another moderate government taking charge of the euro zone’s third-largest economy. The maverick 5-Star Movement or the hard-right League are best placed to lead a new coalition.

Angry Italian voters have rejected traditional politics. The two political groups that appealed to that frustration made big gains and separately claim the right to lead the country.  But neither appears to have enough votes to govern alone. Initial projections based on Interior Ministry data put Luigi Di Maio’s 5-Star party at 227 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 113 in the smaller Senate – well short of the respective 316 and 158 seats it would need to govern.

The League, meanwhile, is now the strongest force in a centre-right alliance that comprises Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Yet the combination lacks 30 to 35 seats in each house to elevate chief Matteo Salvini to the premiership.

There are a number of ways to plug the gap. The centre-right could appeal to disgruntled parliamentarians from the defeated Democratic Party or other minority parties to support a government that would shut out the untested 5-Star. But 5-Star could also woo leftist politicians concerned about the League’s xenophobic stance. A moderate and pro-EU presence in any coalition would help soothe investors, who sold Italian stocks and government bonds on Monday in reaction to the vote.

If Di Maio and Salvini were to join forces, the anti-establishment alliance would control both houses. Their stance on pension reform, immigration and Italy’s relationship with the European Union is not dissimilar. Such a scenario would however require Salvini to play second fiddle to the 31-year-old Di Maio. Personal rivalry would make it hard for them to work together.

If all else fails, President Sergio Mattarella could call on all parliamentarians to support a short-lived, technocratic government charged with a few key tasks, like redrafting Italy’s impossibly complex voting system. However, another election in, say, six months would be unlikely to see a resurrection of established parties. Italy will have to live with the consequences of its embrace of radicalism.

Breakingviews

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