By Omar Mayta
After political general elections in Germany, France, and the UK last year, Europe will face another challenging vote in Italy, the region’s fourth-largest economy. Italy will hold a general election on March 4.
After populist parties made gains but fell short of power in Europe’s other large economies, recent polls and local election results suggest that “Lega Nord” has a shot at governing in a coalition with the center-right “Forza Italia”, which is backed by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, 81 years old. But whoever prevails will have a tough time breaking out of economic stagnation, reducing daunting debts, and dealing with a deeply troubled banking system.
The high odds of a hung parliament could add to the instability. Populist and far-right parties have been gaining steam recently in Europe. Last October, the alliance Berlusconi backs won with 40% of the vote in Sicily’s local elections, propelling Nello Musumeci to the local presidency. That was ahead of the anti-establishment “Movimento 5 Stelle” and the governing center-left Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi.
The “Movimento 5 Stelle”, led by 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, is polling as the largest single party. Moreover, the Islamic Leader in Italy, Davide Piccardo, has recently stated - in a public statement - that his Muslim community is will vote for this political group. Davide Piccardo, a Muslim activist in Italy, is one of the leading figures within the Italian Islamic Community. A graduate in Political Sciences in Milan, he coordinates and organizes conferences and workshops on several political themes.
It will be very interesting to see if the Italian Muslims will follow Piccardo's advice, thus moving their support away from the present administration. This may also explain the recent visit (February 17th) of the Home Secretary, Marco Minniti, formerly of prime minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party, to the Grand Mosque in Rome. This seems to have been a final attempt to attract votes from the Muslim community.
Beyond the latest developments before the general elections, the “Movimento 5 Stelle” and Renzi's Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) have demonstrated sensitivity towards the Islamic Community's demands on wider integration project, more effective inter-religious dialogue and the construction of new mosques.
At the moment, a coalition of rightwing parties assembled by Silvio Berlusconi, including his own “Forza Italia” and some further right groups, is close to 10 points ahead. The centre-left coalition, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, is now facing troubles because some members of the Democratic Party left it last December in order to create a new reformist movement.
But with 30 to 40% of voters still undecided, the final outcome is highly unpredictable – and an inconclusive vote will only add to the instability. Negotiations to form a government are expected to be tricky and could well produce a weak, unstable left-right coalition incapable of passing major legislation or pushing through the structural reforms many feel Italy needs. On March 4, Italians will cast their vote thanks to a new bill which was passed last year by the Parliament.
The law creates a mixed electoral system in which just over a third of parliamentarians in the upper and lower house are elected by first-past-the-post and twothirds by proportional representation via party lists. Parties can stand alone, in which case they must clear a 3% threshold to win seats, or in a pre-announced coalition – which the new system favours – with a threshold of 10%.
Unlike the current system, this one does not give an automatic majority to any party or alliance that wins 40% of the vote. If efforts to form a government fail repeatedly after the vote, Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, may be forced to call new elections, prolonging the country’s political uncertainty.
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