Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned yesterday (5 March) as leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) after a bruising election defeat, but pledged that his party would not strike deals with the anti-establishment parties that voters favoured.
The PD took around 19% of the vote in Sunday’s ballot, its worst result since its creation in 2007, despite presiding over a modest recovery in the euro zone’s third-largest economy.
Beaten by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and a centre-right coalition dominated by the eurosceptic League, Renzi acknowledged the defeat at PD headquarters in Rome.
“It is obvious that I will leave the helm of the PD,” said Renzi, who quit as prime minister when Italians voted against him in a 2016 referendum on constitutional reform, but returned as head of the PD.
He said he would not step down until a government is formed, and that in the meantime his party would shun the coalition talks which will be necessary as no party or alliance got enough votes for a working majority.
“The Italian people have asked us to be in opposition and that is where we will go,” Renzi said.” We will never form a government with anti-system forces.”
This was a reference to 5-Star and the League, who both said on Monday they must be in government, as investors dumped Italian government bonds.
Renzi hit out bitterly at criticism during the campaign of himself and his party.
“If we are mafiosi, if we are corrupt and unworthy of running as candidates, if our hands are covered in blood, you know what? Form a government without us.”
Party rivals have long complained Renzi moved the PD too far to the right and led with a domineering, autocratic hand, leading to a small left-wing group splitting off last year.
“Renzi has been obliterated in what is perhaps the shortest boom-to-bust cycle of Italy’s political history,” Francesco Galietti, political analyst at Policy Sonar, said in a note.
The anti-immigrant League party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) each claimed Sunday’s vote gave them a mandate to lead the nation of 60 million.
But the eurozone’s third-biggest economy was in political limbo as negotiations between the various groups to determine who leads looked likely to take weeks or months.
League leader Matteo Salvini said that he had “the right and the duty” to form a government after its surprise success at the heart of a right-wing coalition.
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) March 5, 2018
But 5-Star Movement, which won the biggest share of the vote of any single party, claimed it was the winner. Its leader Luigi Di Maio said it had a “responsibility” to form a government.
The boost for far-right and populist parties has prompted comparisons to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the rise of US President Donald Trump.
Former White House adviser Steve Bannon — the man who helped Trump ride a populist wave to power — described the results as “an earthquake” in an interview with Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche.
“The tremor is going to continue… there’s really a populist national revolt (against the EU), it’s building steam,” said Bannon, who was in Rome for the election.
With most ballots counted, the League was leading the dominant right-wing coalition, which won roughly 37% of the vote overall.
Salvini’s party surged in the polls after promising to shut down Roma camps, deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and tackle what it calls the “danger” of Islam.
However much depends on M5S, which has drawn support from Italians fed up with traditional parties and a lack of economic opportunity.
It won 32% of the vote.
The M5S had previously refused to align itself with other parties, which it considered part of a “corrupt” system.
But Di Maio said his party now “feels the responsibility to form a government”.
To that end, he said he was “open to discussion with all political actors”.
— Luigi Di Maio (@luigidimaio) March 5, 2018
According to polling company YouTrend, the M5S was set to gain 231 seats in the lower house Chamber of Deputies and 115 in the upper house Senate.
It could therefore form a majority with the either the League, Forza Italia or the Democratic Party (PD).
Salvini swiftly ruled out the prospect of forming a coalition with the M5S.
“N. O. No, underlined three times,” Salvini told reporters.
‘Possibility for change’
Andrea Leo, a voter from Milan, said that if Italians had voted for traditional parties “nothing would have changed for sure.
“At least now there is a possibility for change,” he said.
Prominent British pro-Brexit figure Nigel Farage congratulated M5S, his allies in the European Parliament, “for topping the poll” as by far Italy’s biggest single party.
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, tweeted that it was a “bad night” for the EU.
Resentment at the hundreds of thousands of migrant arrivals in Italy in recent years fired up the campaign, along with frustration about social inequalities.
The election campaign was marred by clashes between far-right and anti-fascist activists, as well as a racist shooting spree by an extreme-right sympathiser last month.
Aside from Renzi, Berlusconi, a flamboyant billionaire and three-time former prime minister, was one of the big losers in the election.
He had returned to the limelight at the age of 81 despite a career overshadowed by sex scandals and legal woes. His Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, collapsed to 14 percent, with the League ahead on 18%.
The stock market had opened 2.0% down but recovered its losses and closed with a dip of 0.42%, even as other European markets mostly rose.