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The 2013 Italian general election: a new source of European instability?

The Italian general election took place on 24–25 February with the lowest voter turnout since the 1950s (under 75 per cent) and did not produce a clear parliamentary majority. It has left Italy politically deadlocked whilst rekindling fears of a new source of European instability.

European press and politicians have suggested that an uncertain election result in the Eurozone’s third largest economy (after Germany and France) has renewed fears of an imminent crisis in the Eurozone. Trading on the international financial markets was affected after the results were announced, as Italy’s markets slumped and the global oil price dropped. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported that the Australian share market was also adversely affected.

Public backlash against austerity measures

The election result suggests that Italy remains divided over responses to the economic crisis that has prompted tens of thousands of skilled job seekers to leave Italy.

The table below shows the distribution of seats, which includes those reserved for overseas candidates.

Election 2013
Centre-Left (Bersani)
Centre-Right (Berlusconi)
With Monti for Italy alliance
Lower House
Source: La Stampa

The Centre-Left Democratic Party (DP) alliance Italy. The Common Good, led by social democrat Pier Luigi Bersani, emerged as the Italian voters’ first choice. DP (which was formed in 2007 and supported Berlusconi’s and Monti’s Governments) won the majority of seats in the Lower House (345), but not in the Senate where it needed 158 seats and only won 123. As reported in The Age, DP’s deputy Enrico Letta, who visited Australia in 2012, said that the election outcome will have ‘very heavy consequences for Italy at the European level’.

The Centre-Right alliance, led by Italy’s richest man and three-times Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (at the helm of the People of Freedom Party) was the second-most preferred party. It refused to enter into a coalition with the outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, who was until last December a member of the People of Freedom party. In November 2011, Senator for Life Monti replaced Berlusconi and headed Italy’s interim government. In response to calls from the European Central Bank to stabilise the Eurozone, Monti introduced unpopular austerity measures and increased taxes. The With Monti for Italy alliance came fourth.

‘M5S’ parliamentary rise

The biggest surprise of Italy’s general election was the electoral success of the Five Star Movement (‘MoVimento 5 Stelle’ or M5S), which came third in the election. M5S obtained the largest share of votes on a single party preference, winning 25.55 per cent of the general vote. It now holds the balance of power, particularly in the Senate.

M5S was launched on 4 October 2009 by entrepreneur Gianroberto Casaleggio and Italy’s Eurosceptic political satirist Beppe Grillo. One of M5S’s electoral promises (that also appears on Grillo’s blog which is ranked as number one in Italy and among the world’s top 20) was to ‘Clean Up’ the Italian Parliament. Beppe Grillo, who was trained as an accountant before becoming a comedian, founded the Five Star Movement on an anti-corruption platform, pledging to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership in the Eurozone.

Critics say that M5S does not have a clear economic platform, and have accused the movement of being ‘undemocratic’. Grillo is not likely to enter parliament as a result of his 1980 criminal conviction for manslaughter in a car accident.

Italo-Australian vote

Italy’s Interior Ministry observed that 29 per cent of eligible voters in Australia participated in the 2013 election, with the Democratic Party receiving the majority of Italo-Australian votes for both chambers, followed by the With Monti for Italy alliance. Nine Italians residing in Australia competed for seats reserved for overseas Italian candidates, and the names of selected candidates will be revealed over the next few weeks.

Four scenarios for Italy

Italy is now facing a choice between four scenarios:
A prolonged period of political instability in Italy risks further undermining investors’ confidence by raising the spectre of Italy’s bailout. Whichever option prevails, the need to address unemployment, illegal migration and massive public debt (of 126 per cent of GDP in 2012 or 2 trillion Euros) will put extra pressure on Italy’s 17th Parliament, which is scheduled to resume on March 15.
Tags: elections, Italy