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Italy: Right Rising

February 18, 2018
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With a month to go to the 4 March parliamentary election, the presentation of the list of candidates by each party does not seem to have had any meaningful impact on the polls. Equally, the number of undecided voters and those who might abstain remain high (30-35%).

In the aftermath of the recent drive-by shooting targeting African immigrants in Macerata, immigration and security are now at the forefront of the political debate. This development should play in favor of the center-right coalition and, especially, of the Northern League (LN) given its harsh anti-immigrant stance. As indicated by Eurobarometer surveys, in May 2013 a mere 4% of Italians saw immigration as one of the two most important issues affecting their country; by November 2017 the figure was 33%.

A hung parliament remains the most likely outcome but the chances of a center-right majority are rising, especially as both the M5S and the center-left seem unable to make any inroads. At this stage, it seems the final result of the election will be determined by the outcome in around 105-110 single-member districts (roughly 75-80 for the lower chamber and 30-35 for the senate) where the race is particularly tight. Critically, in the vast majority of these districts (mainly in central and southern Italy, including both Sicily and Sardinia) the candidates supported by the center-right are ahead but only by a small margin. In the last three parliamentary elections, pollsters generally underestimated the support for the center-right, possibly due to the so-called shy voters.

Absent a center-right majority, the ability to form a coalition government centered on Forza Italia and the PD would largely depend on the latter reaching at least 25% of votes. If the PD fails to increase its popularity (currently at 23.4%) ahead of ballot day, it is doubtful that a “grand coalition” would control a parliamentary majority. In a “badly-hung” parliament scenario where the seat distribution makes it impossible for the mainstream parties to construct some sort of majority, the risk of a return to the polls would be significant.

Government formation process

After the election, it is up to President Sergio Mattarella to consult with party leaders and decide who should be asked to form a government. The president is under no obligation to hand a mandate to the biggest party, and may first seek to establish whether parties can get together a coalition with enough seats to govern. Crucially (and unlike in other countries such as Spain), the constitution sets no hard deadline for forming a government before a new election is triggered.

The new parliament will convene for the first time on 23 March. Electing the leaders of both houses is the first order of business. In a hung parliament scenario, the election of the Senate leader (by the third round a candidate can be elected by an absolute majority of the senators present and voting) could shed some light on the prospects of a coalition government.

The elections of the leaders of both houses and the leaders of the parliamentary groups in both chambers are a necessary prelude to the start of the formal consultations held by the president, which could realistically start on 25-26 March. Assuming a conducive electoral outcome, a new government could be in place – after securing a mandate and the necessary vote of confidence by both chambers – by mid-April.