An earthquake is coming that will force us to redraw all the political maps. The center-right, as expected, is first, but far from the percentages needed for a parliamentary majority: between 33 and 36 percent. The truly explosive news is Lega Nord overtaking Forza Italia (FI).
In the second round of projections overnight, Salvini’s party, with 17.4 percent, will beat FI’s 14.1 percent by more than 3 points. The exit polls revealed a close race between the parties, each with 12-16 percent in the vote for both chambers, while the FDI had between 4 and 6 percent and Noi con Italia did not pass the threshold of 3 percent.
“It’s just healthy competition,” says Silvio Berlusconi ally Paolo Romani. Healthy perhaps, but certainly tense. Until a couple of weeks ago, a photo finish between the two parties seemed impossible. Then the winds changed, and the Lega began to gain ground and leave its mark on Berlusconi’s campaign, increasingly less moderate and pushed to adopt the positions of Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni. In recent days, the worry that one could sense when talking with Forza Italia members had gotten very close to panic.
If the prediction of the exit polls, to be taken with a grain of salt, are inaccurate, and the right ends up winning a majority of the votes, the close race between Forza Italia and the Lega is likely to jeopardize the alliance’s common choice for a prime minister. The candidates, Antonio Tajani the ultra-European and Salvini the anti-European, are divisive, making any possible agreement difficult. Despite the statements by the leadership of both parties, it is not impossible that the right-wing alliance would end up reconsidering their choices, whether the Lega or the FI finishes first.
If, as is certainly most likely, the center-right does not win a majority, the unity of the alliance looks set to fall apart from the very beginning of the consultations with the president to form a prospective government, where it seems that, as far as we know, everyone will be on their own. It is not at all certain, then, that both parties will have the same position if President Sergio Mattarella tries, as he almost inevitably will, to form a grand coalition.
But this time the coming earthquake runs deeper, and goes far beyond the fate of this particular Parliament. The success of the Lega would mean the end of the Right as we have known it in Italy for the past 25 years—a mixture, not found anywhere else in Europe, between moderates and radicals, with the power firmly in the hands of the former thanks to their much larger electoral support. Berlusconi’s 1994 “miracle” has managed to survive—although shrinking more and more—only until Sunday.
That Italian Right is now just a memory. This is true if the Lega can boast having gotten more votes than FI, and it will be true even if it’s only close behind. Salvini has the wind in his sails. The results of the regional elections in Lombardy, where Lorenzo Fontana is far ahead, are a further boost for the Lega leader. The absence of a credible leader who can replace Berlusconi, too old at this point, as the head of Forza Italia is just icing on the cake.
The game that had as its stake not only the leadership, but the whole make-up of the Italian Right has ended with Salvini’s victory. It is only of relative importance whether this victory is made official Monday with the final results of the vote, or within a few months—certainly in time for the next elections, which are quite unlikely to take five years to arrive.
The mirage of a grand majority coalition between the Democratic Party and Forza Italia is gone. On paper, there remains the prospect of a government alliance between the Lega and the 5 Star Movement. Some people are already giving it as a sure thing, but the reality is different, and Centinaio, speaking for the Lega, has denied this possibility in stark terms.
Sunday’s vote means the balance on which the Second Republic was founded, based on the centrality of the Democratic Party and Forza Italia, is now dead and buried. It has been replaced by a face-off between Grillo’s movement and a right led by the Lega, which has managed to stop the 5 Star wave in the north.
It is not likely that these two new hegemonic forces in Italian politics will become allies and form a government that would be adversarial and conflict-ridden. It is much more likely that both would seek to return to the polls as soon as possible and play a new round of dividing the spoils from what remains of Renzi’s party.