In Italy’s national elections on Sunday, Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister, a long-time spy chief and a member of the center-left Democratic Party, was soundly defeated in his parliamentary race by a candidate without a party. The winner was a man who had been kicked out of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement because he admitted he’d broken a party rule and not tithed part of his salary back to the movement. The majority of the other ministers in the current government, a grand coalition of center-left and center-right led by the Democratic Party, also lost in direct contests, although they’ll enter parliament through a proportional system.
The dust is settling on one of the most dramatic political shifts in Italy since the founding of the republic after the Second World War. In this case a populist wave split the country in two. The entire Italian south and Sicily went to the chameleonic Five-Star Movement, which became the first party in Italy, with 33 percent of the vote. Most of the North went to the League, formerly the Northern League, which campaigned on fears of out-of-control immigration and economic distress. That party is now the senior partner in a center-right bloc with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, which I wrote about here. (The results produced a hung parliament, with no party getting enough votes to form a government on its own, and it will take weeks if not months for a government to emerge.)
In celebrating his victory on Monday, Luigi Di Maio, the 31-year-old face of the Five-Star Movement, lauded what he called the start of Italy’s Third Republic, “a republic of citizens.” What that means is anyone’s guess. But he was right that the results mark a new chapter. Italy’s so-named first republic saw dozens of governments led by the Christian Democrats or Socialists, with what was once Europe’s largest Communist party in the opposition. The second republic began in the early 1990s, when two-thirds of Parliament came under indictment in a bribery scandal, known as Tangentopoli (Bribesville), and Silvio Berlusconi stepped into government in 1994.