Italian General Election 2018: The Controversial Figures Behind Two Of The Country’s Largest Parties

Gio Fax and Henry Kincaid-
The Western world’s most recent election cycles have showcased that we are entering a new, perhaps unnerving political landscape. Not only have hung parliaments and coalition governments become norms rather than exceptions, but parties previously dismissed as ‘extreme’ – on both the left-wing and the right-wing –  have surged in popularity and, in some cases, entered government.
But who is aiming for power in the Italian general election? In this article, we shall give a primer on a few relatively new and highly controversial figures in opposition parties, at least one of which is likely to win on Sunday.

Movement 5 Star’s official (unofficial leaders), (L-R) Luigi di Maio, Beppe Grillo, Davide Casaleggio.   (ANSA)

Beppe Grillo, Luigi di Maio, and Davide Casaleggio
If you thought that a reality star and business tycoon becoming president was a bewildering prospect, consider that one of Italy’s major parties was co-founded by a stand-up comedian. Beppe Grillo, the comedian in question, started ‘Movement 5-Star’ as a political party whose stated goal was to overturn entrenched corruption in Italian politics. True to how one may imagine an Italian comedian, Grillo is straight-talking, loud, and confrontational.
One of Grillo’s first acts of political activism was to use his own money to run an ad in La Republica to call for the resignation of the governor of the Bank of Italy over a financial scandal.
In 2007, Grillo led a ‘V Movement’ against political corruption – ‘V’, standing for ‘vaffuncalo’ – the Italian way of saying “fuck off.
Grillo has frequently been accused of embodying hypocrisy. Despite his insistence that those convicted of crimes should not involve themselves in politics, he himself was charged with vehicular manslaughter due to a 1981 car accident.
Despite their centrism and appeal to popular causes, critics have accused M5S of lacking strong principles, however; M5S’s response to such claims is that they are largely a centrist party which deals with the issues directly, and does not resort to archaic left-right dichotomies.
Grillo appears to have left the party behind, as suggested by the removal of almost references of 5 Star on his personal blog. With Grillo seemingly gone, the party will likely be more dominantly controlled by Davide Casaleggio, the son of the party’s other original founder, Gianroberto Casaleggio. Importantly though, Davide is not officially even a member of 5 Star, despite his dominant position within it; instead, the official leader is Luigi Di Maio, a 31-year-old politician whose prior experiences before involving himself in politics includes working as a steward at the San Paolo Stadium in Naples, however; don’t let that fool you. Di Maio was elected Prime Minister candidate of M5S with over 82% of the vote, and has become one of the most likely to win the election, albeit potentially with the need for a coalition government.  If Di Maio were to be elected Prime Minister, he would be the youngest to do so, and also the second-youngest world leader behind Austria’s Sebastian Kurtz.
Matteo Salvini (L) shaking hands with Silvio Berlusconi (R).   (Getty)

Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini has led the Northern League (Lega Nord) party since taking over from the founder, Umberto Bossi. Although Salvini is now known as the foremost nationalist politician of Italy, ‘Lega Nord’ initially started life as a regionalist party, even going so far as to call for the secession of Northern Italy from the south, however; under Salvini’s premiership, the party has slowly moved towards mainstream political concerns and has ceased any talk of secession. Indeed, Salvini has even dropped ‘Northern’ from the party’s name, renaming the party as simply ‘League’ (Lega), to avoid alienating southern voters.
Salvini sees himself as representing the Italian electorate who have been affected by the migrant crisis. Recently, a number of migrant-related crimes have dominated news cycles due to their irregular nature. In Rome, a woman in the process of giving birth was interrupted by a 38-year-old Somalian man who attempted to rape after he stole a nurse’s uniform. An 18-year-old was murdered and potentially eaten in what might have been a ritual murder. After the murder, a man opened fire on a group of African migrants, wounding 6 people. Due to Italy’s geographical location, it serves as a major entry point into Europe.
Like Grillo, Salvini is highly Eurosceptic, this means he runs a risk alienating Italy’s more pragmatic, fearful voters who worry that sudden change could further disrupt Italy’s flailing economy, however; he also stands a chance of riding the disgruntled populist wave that has helped M5S gain power, and instead may steal votes from Movement 5 Star due to his reputation as a ‘disruptor’.
Matteo Salvini and his party are part of the ‘centre-right coalition’, a collection of four individual parties who have come together in order to run on a joint platform. The parties, besides Lega, includes Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Brothers of Italy, and ‘Us with Italy’. Together, the center-right coalition is the frontrunner in the election, though individually they all lag behind the 5 Star Movement.
Protests and riots against the Renzi government took place in Florence in late 2016.   (EPA)

What Could Happen?
Because of the high likelihood of a hung parliament, Italian parties actually formed coalitions weeks prior to the election, most notably including the aforementioned Centre-Right Coalition; a Centre-Left Coalition also exists, but appears to be sitting behind both the Centre-Right and M5S.
The leader of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, although still influential, is unable to be reelected office due to previous tax evasion offences; what’s more, Berlusconi was also embroiled in a number of sex scandals; all of this means that the role of prime minister will likely fall to Salvini if the right-wing collation is victorious. Despite the scandals, Berlusconi is widely seen as a relatively predictable and stable figure, both in Italy and Brussels.
Although the outcome is far from certain, recent polls show the right-wing coalition may win 37% of the electorate. The party that gains the most votes out of the four-member coalition members will be elected prime minister.
Whether the right-wing coalition, the centre-left coalition, or the populist Movement 5 Star will be victorious, Sunday’s election may be a bellwether for the direction Europe is taking.

Featured Image Credits: Getty

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