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  • Why the 2018 Elections in Italy Are Pivotal

    Learn about who the political players will be when Italy heads to the polls in March
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    The year ahead – 2018 – is going to be a big one for Italy. So much is at stake. An upcoming election on March 4 is going to give the country the chance to decide who it is and who it is going to be.

    It is a battle among a few factions. But the progressives led by Paolo Gentiloni (but really his predecessor Matteo Renzi, who leads the Democratic Party) are in one camp. For the moment, this group holds the power. Gentiloni signed on as prime minister when Italians came out to reject Renzi's constitutional changes in an earlier election.

    That vote was all Renzi's own doing. He asked Italians to vote on changes that would have put more power in the hands of the prime minister. The idea was to get a more stable government in a country that has had so many different governments since World War II that I've lost count. At first, the world thought his changes would pass.

    But he miscalculated. By the time the vote rolled around, a sea of change was washing over the country. He had made some economic changes that angered some, especially the working class in the south of Italy. In addition, comedian Beppe Grillo and his grassroots, populist Five-Star party gained steam as did similar movements across the world. Renzi had promised to leave and make way for a new leader if the vote did not go his way. And so he had no choice but to walk away.

    The Five-Star party is anti-immigrant at a time when Italy is suffering the burden of the migrant crisis. Many in the country feel as though Europe has all but completely abandoned Italy as more and more refugees wash up on Italian shores or need to be rescued from its sea. Of course, as is the case with any wave of immigration, some Italians blame the foreigners for their economic woes and problems. It's an ugly form of scapegoating that goes back centuries. What no one can question, however, is the fact that Italy simply cannot handle all the people trying to flow into the country. As a result, finding a responsible way to control immigration and refugees entering the country is a top priority.

    At the same time, Silvio Berlusconi is again leading the Forza Italia party. That's right, he's back after the Bunga Bunga parties and accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual relations with a minor and other accusations of criminality. As I understand it, Berlusconi can't actually be the nominee himself because he has a criminal record. Still, he's behind the scenes (and popping on stage every now and then) pulling the strings for the party he launched years ago. What might be helping him is the struggling economy.

    In Italy, there's no question that Berlusconi remains a political force with which to reckon. And his party could have great influence in the upcoming election. Experts on Italian politics that people always have mistakenly written him off. "Some analysts have predicted a victory for Berlusconi's coalition, albeit without an outright majority," according to CNBC. "This means that he would have an important role in negotiating with other parties to form a stable government."

    Economics are a big motivator with voters. "It's the economy, stupid" rings true everywhere. This could give Berlusconi an edge because, despite the scandals, people see him as having had business success. While Italy's economy has been stagnant for years, it has seen small gains recently. People would like to build on any momentum they have. But many Italians are still not quite feeling the surge in their pocketbook. The economy is teetering on the edge, according to reports.

    The refugee situation puts pressure on an already ailing economy, and many see globalization as the enemy of the people. The Five-Star party is also anti euro. Supporters of Grillo have called for Italy to pull out of the European Union's currency and return to the lire, Italy's previous currency. You can learn more specifics about what might happen to the economy, depending on who wins, in Bloomberg Markets.

    In the meantime, Italy is increasing its military presence in Libya and Niger to curb migration. More than 600,000 African immigrants have come on boats to Italy's shores in the last four years, according to Reuters. However, Libyan media has been questioning Italy's decision, and some there say they want clarification on what Italy means by bringing in this additional military presence. Tensions are rising.

    All this makes the upcoming election in March all the more riveting – not to mention consequential to Italy's future.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 1/22/18

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