Populist surge in Italy as voters back anti-immigrant, anti-establishment parties

Italy is facing a populist uprising after a surge in support for anti-European parties in Sunday’s parliamentary election, however no party received enough votes to rule alone meaning the country will likely enter a period of political deadlock.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) made significant gains in Sunday’s vote though with 31% of the vote, it doesn’t have enough seats to form government, according to state broadcaster RAI.

The center-right coalition, which includes League — also known as the Northern League — along with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy, is likely to form the largest bloc in both houses of the country’s parliament, a combined share of votes totaling over 37%.

Of its coalition partners, the anti-immigrant League attracted the largest share of the votes with 18% to Forza Italia’s 14%. The swing toward the League looks set to give the party as many as 123 seats in the lower house, up from 22 seats, a six-fold increase.

As no party secured a majority, the country faces weeks, if not months, of negotiations between groups with competing interests to form a government. Final results are expected to be released at 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET)

Bad day for ruling party

The projected votes represent a poor showing for the outgoing center-left Democratic Party government.

The center-left coalition, formed with the liberal More Europe party, could only muster a combined 23.5% and will likely end up as the third-largest group in Parliament, behind M5S and the right-wing coalition. The bombshell sees the largest loss of the election, which will see it shed seats, from 281 to somewhere between 104 and 110.

The poor showing comes despite the ruling party being projected to get the second-largest share of votes, 19%, for an individual party. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a center-left reformer who was leading the push, stepped aside in 2016 after the failure of a controversial constitutional referendum.

As Italians awoke to a hung parliament, the left-wing establishment started to gather the pieces.

Democratic Party member and outgoing parliamentarian Andrea Marcucci said that the voters had spoken “clearly and incontrovertibly” and that “The populists had won and the (Democratic Party) had lost.”

“The Democratic Party is leaving much better results to Italy than its predecessors. We will start again in the opposition,” he said in the post.

Bad news for EU unity

The poll is being closely scrutinized by European leaders who are concerned by the increasingly euroskeptic sentiment and fearful of any instability in the Eurozone’s third-largest economy.

If projections are accurate, the result means that Italy could be plunged into months of further political deadlock that could have broader implications for Europe — both the League and the Five Star Movement are anti-EU parties.

The rise of anti-European voices, both on the right and from the anti-establishment M5S, comes as Italians appear increasingly divided over issues such as undocumented immigration contributed to a rancorous campaign.

Italy is one of the main entry points into Europe from migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The narrative around immigration took a darker turn in February after a man linked with the League party apparently went on a shooting rampage targeting African migrants in the town of Macerata. The incident fueled serious political debate about how the country is reconciling its fascist past.

Steve Bannon: ‘Election is crucial’

The populist parties’ gains in the polls were not lost on US President Donald Trump’s former strategic adviser Steve Bannon, who was in Rome to observe the elections.

Bannon said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper that an alliance between the anti-immigrant League party and the populist Five Star Movement was “the ultimate dream.”

“This election is crucial for the global populist movement” he said, saying it was an issue of “sovereignty” for Italians opposed to immigration.

Another far-right politician, France’s Marine Le Pen, tweeted that the projected results signaled an anti-EU sentiment in the southern European country.

“The European Union is going to have a horrible evening,” she said in the post.