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The leader of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio. Credit: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Il nuovo, dolce vita per Italia?

Italy’s election results may have shocked the political establishment, but not me. Early Sunday morning I predicted that both M5S and Lega would do better than their pre-election poll standings and that Lega would outpoll Forza Italia to make Matteo Salvini the premier-designate candidate of the centre-right. But even I was too pessimistic, placing both populist parties about two points apiece below their final performance. Together they polled about 50% of the vote, enough to form a purely populist government without any involvement of a traditional right/left party.

Italy had every reason to change course. Its economy has been stagnant for years. Neither centre-right nor centre-left seemed to have real answers, and the two leaders of those parties – Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi – had both been rejected by Italian voters in some fashion in the past. Italians were in the mood for a change, and the traditional parties presented figures from the not-so-happy past. That’s not a recipe for success.

The downfall of the centre-right and centre-left has been swift. In the 2008 election, those parties received over 70% of the vote. Along with centrist and Christian Democratic parties, the Italian establishment got over 80%. The total for those parties dropped to 57% in 2013, and plummeted to only 36.5% on Sunday.

Italians were in the mood for a change, and the traditional parties presented figures from the not-so-happy past

I’ll be doing a series of posts on what each party should take away from its performance. But there are two bottom lines:

  • First, there is no stable government possible without M5S leading the way. If Luigi DiMaio is not Italy’s premier by summer, I’ll be shocked.
  • Second, the Democratic Party has a very difficult choice ahead of it. It is the only one aside from Lega that could form a two-party government by teaming up with M5S. Will it choose to follow the German SPD and become the junior partner to keep out the anti-immigrant populists? Or will it choose to go into opposition in the hope it will recover its fortunes if populists stumble?

Italy is the first major Western European country to truly break with the post-Second World War consensus, throwing out the Ins in favor of the Outs. If global Ins in other countries don’t get the message, it won’t be the last.

Yesterday's reactions to the Italian general election

Rolling blog on Italy's election: Reports of populism's death have been greatly exaggerated

By Various