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The brutal return of Italian bipolarism – Michael Braun

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The brutal return of Italian bipolarism – Michael Braun

July 22, 2022 4:13 pm

When Mario Draghi resigned, not only his emergency government ended. The coalition of national unity that “held together” a vast span of forces, from the populist right of the Lega, to the left-left of Liberi e equuali, is not the only end. Most likely, also and above all a very long phase in which Italy was ruled not by governments expressions of organic majorities, which emerged victorious in the elections, but by executives who, in the absence of such majorities, united the devil with the ‘Holy water.

The story begins way back in November 2011 when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ship sank in the stormy sea of ​​the euro crisis. In his place came the government of Monti, the first “Super-Mario”, composed exclusively of technicians, while the parties were reduced to the role of mere bearers of parliamentary votes for policies no longer decided by them.

The 2013 elections were supposed to mark the return to party democracy. But the invasion of the Five Stars scene – which reached 25 per cent – radically changed the scenario: Italy was no longer a bipolar country where center-right and center-left confronted each other, but a tripolar country. Each of the three poles – the center-right, the center-left, the M5s – was a minority both in the country and in parliament. Even if the center-left, thanks to the electoral law then in force, the “Porcellum”, had an absolute majority in the chamber, he could only count on 123 of the 315 seats in the senate.

Only way out
Yet the years 2013-2018 in the collective imagination are remembered as years of “government of the Democratic Party”. In fact, all three presidents of the council – Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi, Paolo Gentiloni – were expressed by the Democratic Party, but had to stand on coalitions with pieces of the center-right, first with Berlusconi’s La casa delle liberty, then with Angelino’s Nuovo center-right. Alfano.

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The pattern repeats itself with the 2018 elections which confirm both tripolarism and the lack of a winner capable of forming a government on his own. Therefore, rather bizarre governments are born, the first of which was the “yellow-green” one, the coalition between the Five Stars and the League, united more by the similar ways of the two forces – both presented themselves as “anti-system” – than on the merits of policies to be pursued.

There was a lot of irony about Salvini and Papeete – but his decision to pull the plug was more than logical

That conflict was resolved with a simple do ut des in which Matteo Salvini had carte blanche to implement his anti-immigrant policy of “closed ports” and “security decrees” while Luigi Di Maio could “abolish poverty” thanks to the introduction of citizenship income.

But that do ut des it soon ended due to the dizzying rise in the consensus of Salvini and the Lega which in the 2019 European elections found itself catapulted to 34 percent while the M5s with its meager 17 percent achieved a result halved compared to just one year before. There was a lot of irony about Salvini and Papeete, but his decision to pull the plug was a more than logical decision, dictated by the belief that in the tripolar system without majorities there would be no other way out than early elections.

The pact of despair
He was unscrupulous – but the others who cheated him were also unscrupulous, forming the yellow-red government, always with Giuseppe Conte as president of the council. Who would have ever imagined a coalition between the Five Stars and the Democratic Party, between two forces that until the day before had cordially hated each other, who had covered each other with invectives if not insults?

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In essence, that alliance was a pact born out of desperation, from the fear of badly losing the early elections. But the formula worked much better than expected. The pandemic has given a hand: otherwise Matteo Renzi would have probably broken the coalition already in the spring of 2020. More: Pd, M5s and also Leu found themselves in great harmony in the management of the emergency, both health and economic -social. And they discovered an unexpected harmony also in other fields of politics – a harmony that seemed to herald a departure from the tripolar scheme to return to a new bipolarism between center-right and “alliance of progressives” or “wide field” if you prefer. .

But when Matteo Renzi withdrew his support for the Conte II government again, parliament found itself without political majorities capable of forming a new government. And again the fears of many parties – and of many parliamentarians – in the face of the prospect of imminent elections, have led to the approval of an executive ruled even by the main forces of all three poles expressed by the 2018 vote, by the center-right with the Lega and Forza Italia at the M5s in the center-left with the Pd and LeU.


That experience is definitively over, but we can also consider the long phase of Italian tripolarism over. But it ends in a somewhat unexpected way. For most of the past legislature we have seen a split center-right (now rather right-center), with Forza Italia and Fratelli d’Italia in opposition against the ruling Lega (2018-2019) and then with Fdi in opposition against a government supported also thanks to the support of Forza Italia and Lega (2021-2022). But that rift has been recomposed as if by magic, thanks to the fact that Salvini and Berlusconi have abruptly turned their backs on Prime Minister Draghi. Thus a compact and cohesive center-right pole with sovereign and populist traction is reborn.

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Instead, ironically, the Democratic Party and the Five Stars, despite having marched side by side from the summer of 2019 until the past few days, now find themselves deeply divided from each other and the attempt has been wrecked, at least not at all unrealistic at the start. to form a robust pole of progressive forces, united both on the field of civil rights and on that of social rights. Instead Enrico Letta finds himself with a crippled center-left who, looking at the current polls, will hardly be able to compete with the right-center.

Five stars remain. But nothing remains of their ability to constitute a third pole again, to create enthusiasm among the voters, to disrupt the games of Italian politics. They will send a small patrol of deputies and senators to Rome, nothing more.

And from tripolar Italy will again find itself bipolar. Worse: he will find himself with a pole and a half. This is excellent news for Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini. Another question is whether it is good news for Italy and Europe.

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