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Italy heads to the polls, and towards political despair

It’ll be just before twenty to seven when the sun’s rays start climbing over the Pantheon in Rome on Monday. Early risers will be putting their moka pots on the fire and waiting for the coffee to brew as they tune in to Rai 1, eagerly waiting to find out who has won and who has lost the general election.

According to recent polls, the country is heading towards a hung parliament. The obscure electoral law (only brought in just before these elections) and significant party fragmentation across the spectrum contribute towards a general feeling of inevitability of what is to come: months of long, harmful uncertainty.

Former PM Matteo Renzi has not managed to recover from a tough political blow received following the constitutional referendum at the end of 2016. His Blairite attitude towards traditional party values has forced a split, with left-wing hardliners now supporting a separate party led by the former President of the Senate, Pietro Grasso, who is somewhat similar – in his style and his views – to Jeremy Corbyn.

If the polls are to be believed, a red coalition has absolutely no chance of reaching government. A combination of pretentiousness and undelivered promises in the past five years has taken its toll on the the left, which appears to be slowly and steadily sinking into the swamp of opposition.

Current polling seems to favour the right-wing parties. But these are in just as complicated a state as their left-of-centre counterparts.

It seems unbelievable that the key figure in the campaign has yet again been the infamous, 81-year-old Silvio Berlusconi. Health scares and court rulings have not been able to stop the four-time prime minister from reappearing out of darkness and vigorously propelling his party to an incredible 20 per cent in the polls. The party slogan written on the electoral ballot papers still reads “Berlusconi for PM”, despite a law on tax evasion expressly prohibiting the Cavaliere from actually standing as head of government again.

The party, in what can only really be described as a parody of modern politics, has yet to reveal who the official candidate for the top job is.

Further right, Salvini has succeeded in transforming his ‘Lega’. An openly anti-immigration stance, similar to that of Germany’s AfD, and a set of rather distinctive jumpers have helped him gain popularity, particularly amongst working-class, traditionally left-wing voters. It is indeed a realistic possibility that the country of Michelangelo and Rafael may be run by a man who has said he would not hesitate to “unload migrants on African shores with a packet of peanuts and some ice cream”.

Even further right, Giorgia Meloni leads ‘Brothers of Italy’, a small party whose name should suffice to describe its ideology.

There is, for those who have not yet seen enough, a third concerning and curious alternative: the Five Star Movement. Started by comedian Beppe Grillo, the movement has grown rapidly and may well be Italy’s largest party, although unlikely to be in government due to its anti-alliance attitude.

I have yet to understand what this party stands for. It is a consensus-seeking machine fuelled by frustration towards the traditional political establishment. It has no consistent stance on Europe and no coherent attitude towards immigration. Its candidate for PM, Luigi di Maio, tried to study engineering at university before switching to jurisprudence, and eventually graduating in neither.

After a spell as a steward at SSC Napoli’s stadium, he was elected to Parliament thanks to the movement’s scheme of online voting in primaries with only 189 votes. I have no doubt that this ‘experienced statesman’ is indeed the man that holds the secret to the future prosperity of the nation.

Clearly, troubled times lie ahead for Italy. Regardless of Monday morning’s results, the nation’s chequered political history is set to continue.

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