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  • Zac Hills

Need to Know: Draghi’s Demise and Italy's Election

As featured in Edition 41, available here.

By ZAC HILLS (2nd year - History and Politics - Leicestershire, United Kingdom)

What happened?

After a year and a half in office, Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi — one of a mere handful in postwar history to be appointed without prior electoral experience — has been ousted by a return to traditional Italian turbulence. In a desperate last bid to resuscitate political support before elections scheduled for 2023, the declining populist Five Star Movement withdrew its support for the government on 13th July over proposed relief for energy bills amidst rampant inflation. A week later, right-wing parties Lega and Forza Italia — also former supporters of Draghi — dealt the final blow to his premiership by abstaining in a pivotal confidence vote. Draghi’s rise to power as an emergency successor to Giuseppe Conte largely predestined his unfortunate fate.

Why couldn’t Draghi survive?

Draghi required support from the Five Star Movement, a big-tent populist party that became the largest in Parliament in 2018, in order to survive. In June, they irreconcilably split after Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio led over fifty colleagues in establishing a new party, Civic Commitment, due to his party’s lacklustre response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now hovering around just 10% in opinion polls, Conte’s Five Star Movement chose to sabotage Draghi’s premiership in an attempt to whip up anti-establishment sentiment. Draghi was a victim of the Italian system itself, which requires cooperation from parties primarily concerned with competing for votes, meaning that his raison d’être as an independent reformer was no longer tenable.

Why the right is likely to win

Italy’s newest voting system — in which 37% of representatives are elected on a majoritarian basis and other seats are allocated proportionally —means that the election will be decided by alliances. A united right-wing front containing Lega, a hard-right party led by the Trumpesque Matteo Salvini, and corrupt former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia has been formalised — but neither men is expected to lead the next government. That honour befalls Giorgia Meloni, leader of the national-conservative Brothers of Italy, despite having won just 4.4% of votes in the 2018 elections. Meloni’s party recently won over disillusioned right-of-centre voters by never joining Draghi’s government, unlike Salvini and Berlusconi. Her sudden fortune is because of fanaticism rather than achievement or quality.

Where did the left and centre go wrong?

The unity of the right, however, has not inspired similar collectivity between the left and centre. The centre-left Democratic Party, repulsed by M5S’s politicking, formed a pact with the more radical Green and Left Alliance to unify the progressive vote, causing the centrist party Azione to form their own alliance with the liberal Italia Viva. Citing the left’s supposed lack of loyalty to Draghi and disagreements over nuclear power and economic liberalism, Azione put centrist ideological purity ahead of resisting the nativist racism and Putinism of Italy’s ascendant far-right. Similarly, leftists opposed to vaccination mandates, the EU and the Russo-Ukrainian War have established their own minor and hopeless alliances. These divisions vastly improve the chances of a right-wing landslide.

What next?

With Meloni seemingly unrivalled, a new era both domestically and internationally may soon be heralded. Meloni, who previously defended Mussolini and denied her party’s fascist heritage, may become the first far-right populist to seize power in postwar Western Europe, empowering France’s Rassemblement National and Spain’s Vox for future elections. Despite her criticism of Putin and justifying supplying arms to Ukraine, the Russophilia of the wider Italian right may return Italy to passivity towards Moscow. Meloni also lacks the credibility to secure vital recovery funds from Europe as Draghi aspired to do amidst mounting debts and sluggish growth, potentially leaving Italy in a fiscal quagmire without a powerful, unifying alternative. Conservative, as well as progressive Italians, have little to be optimistic about.

Image 1: Flickr/ Simone Fontana

Image 2: Flickr/ socialphinet



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