What does the Sicily vote tell us about Italy’s upcoming general election?

By Mattia Guidi
24 November 2017
Italy Italy
Italy's latest vote brings little good news for the centre left
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The regional election in Sicily did not bring good news for the centre left. The centre right candidate for the regional presidency, Nello Musumeci, won with almost 40% of the votes; the Five Star Movement followed with 34.65%; the candidate supported by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) got only 18.65%, and the candidate furthest to the left ended up with 6.15% of the votes. This result was not entirely unexpected: when the centre right and centre left has gone head to head in Sicily, the centre right has won on all but one occassion – when the centre left achieved victory in 2012 as a result of a split in the centre-right coalition. But this year, even if PD and the leftwing coalition had run together, their votes combined would not have been enough to win.

Despite not necessarily reflecting national trends, the Sicilian election has been widely debated and analysed. It is the last vote to be held in Italy before the upcoming general election, and exhibited some political currents that, at the moment, it seems likely we will see again in the spring: a united centre right, a strong Five Star Movement, and a divided centre left.

The new electoral system, which will allocate roughly 37% of seats in both chambers through a first past the post system (and the rest with proportional representation), will reward coalitions of parties that support the same candidate in FPTP districts. While no centre-right party is polling above 15%, a centre-right coalition can expect to receive around 35% of the vote – a figure that could decisively win most FPTP districts. The Five Star Movement notoriously does not contemplate coalitions, and will run alone in all districts. But what about the centre left?

In truth, matters have not progressed much since my piece of July. The split in the PD is a fresh wound that still bleeds. The new electoral system was approved by the PD with its centrist allies along with the main centre-right parties (Forza Italia and Northern League), which those to the left have interpreted as a hostile move and as a precursor to a post-election agreement between PD and Berlusconi. While these criticisms miss a crucial point (electoral reform should always be agreed with opposition parties), they are right that there is a high chance of a hung parliament following the general election. While the electoral reform won’t be to  blame for this – no system would be likely to grant any party a majority in the current political climate – the new rules will severely penalise division between the PD and the parties to its left.

Renzi seems to understand this. The heady highpoint of 2014, when the the PD triumphed in the European Elections scoring 40% is now a distant memory. Most polls today now put PD support at between 24 and 28%. Which means running alone or with only a few small allies in the general election would be political suicide for both the PD and the wider left. A coalition will not be easy to assemble though. Parties to its left are divided between those who rule out joining a coalition with the PD and others that remain open to the idea. Leftwing parties have said they want “facts, not words” from Renzi, and his chances of building a larger centre-left coalition will depend on the policy choices his party makes over the next few months.

Key decisions that would help make a deal with Renzi more attactive for the left include approving a new law on citizenship – one that would give Italian citizenship to children born in and who have attended at least five years of school in Italy. Together with a number of ‘social’ measures in the budget law likely to be approved before the end of the year they could kickstart serious talks about a coalition agreement.

Those in the PD calling for a joint effort on the centre left look to the centre right as an example. Berlusconi and his allies diverge on a number of major issues (like the EU, taxation and justice), but this doesn’t stop them from forming a strategic alliance to make them all better off electorally. The PD and parties to its left would also benefit from being less obsessed by what divides them and, instead, campaigning on a common platform around those areas that unite them. It seems strange that people who were in the same party until just a few months ago might not manage to work together even in coaliton at the next election. But, as we know, strange things happen quite often in Italy.

Image credit: Antonio Nardelli / Shutterstock.com