The Draghi government suffers the consequences of the electoral fall of Five Star and the League

Mario Draghi

With eight months to go until the next general election (the last one took place on 4 March 2018), the Draghi government has entered a phase of extraordinary difficulty in keeping the "maggioranza" of government together. And the key to this lies in the recent municipal elections, as well as in the split of minister Di Maio from the Five Star Movement. Draghi held an emergency meeting with the different parliamentary groups that support him and at the same time stated at a press conference that he did not plan to govern with an alternative "maggioranza", nor did he envisage the possibility that Five Star could abandon the current government to provide external support or go directly to the opposition. This has brought, at least for the time being, calm to an increasingly agitated transalpine politics: the question is how long this calm will last.

The question is how long this tranquillity will last. Everything may remain substantially unchanged until October, when elections are due to be held for the government of the Sicilian region. These elections do not bode well for either Salvini or Five Star: the polls indicate that the current governor, Nello Musumeci, will be reelected, but even though he represents the centre-right as an independent, he is much closer to Meloni (because he was once with Gianfranco Fini in the National Alliance) than to Salvini. So the Roman politician would have little time to score a point and try to sink her rival Salvini a little more, whom she already has more than seven points of difference in voting intentions. In turn, Five Star will surely reap its umpteenth heavy defeat because the southernmost part of the country is very disappointed with everything that has happened around the "citizenship income", which, as expected, has not reached the expected amount, nor the number of families who should have received it (some five million in principle).

In reality, the main problem Draghi is facing is that the two majority parties in terms of the number of parliamentarians, namely the League and Five Star, are the ones in free fall at the moment, while Meloni's Brothers of Italy and the Democratic Party (PD) are clearly on the rise. Whatever Draghi has said, he can do without Five Star or the League, but not without both, because then the executive would be in a minority and there would be no choice but to call elections. And the worst thing is that he needs both to tackle two fundamental issues: the consequences of the war in Ukraine (which are leading to ever lower growth which, if it continues like this, could easily turn into recession); and the State Budget (PGE) for the year 2023. From there, President Mattarella is likely to close Parliament and call "political" elections for February-March 2023, which should lead to the start of the 20th Legislature in the history of the Italian Republic.

But, beyond what happens in the polls, there are two key issues that explain why the Draghi government may fall sooner than expected. The first is none other than the reduction in the number of parliamentarians for the next legislature: the "referendum" held in September 2020 resulted in a very favourable "yes" to reducing the two legislative chambers, which will go from the current 945 parliamentarians (630 in the Lower House and 315 in the Upper House) to just 600 (400 in the Lower House and 200 in the Upper House). If we add to that the foreseeable generational renewal, the reality is that half of the current deputies and senators will go directly to the street. 

Particularly those of Five Star, which, in the best-case scenario, between the two chambers, would reach half a hundred MPs; and that is if they make it, because his close enemy Matteo Renzi has been announcing for months that Five Star is not even going to make it to the next elections. A calculation in which he agrees with a former Five Star member, Senator Gianluigi Paragone, who, despite not speaking to Renzi, thinks exactly the same as the current senator for Tuscany. For its part, Salvini's League is doing better, but to think that, with 15% of the vote at the moment, its 210 current MPs will revalidate their mandate is a real chimera, since to do so it would need a third of the total vote, when it is moving at less than half of that third.

The second key issue is that both parties may abandon the "maggioranza", move to the opposition and even precipitate elections, but, apart from the well-known saying there that "whoever brings down a government, pays for it at the ballot box", the fundamental problem is that both have run out of discourse. Both Salvini and Five Star were parties "against", not "for". In the case of the League, its success lay in being "against irregular immigration" and "against the European Union", until the Draghi government managed to control the migratory flow and began to receive money from the "Recovery Fund"; while Five Star was "against the political class", until they decided to support the Draghi government and, above all, until their leader and head of the list in the landslide election victory in March 2008 (Luigi di Maio, current Foreign Minister and now leader of the new parliamentary group called "Insieme per Italia") decided to leave the party to make sure he stayed in politics for as long as possible. Di Maio has become a professional politician, when he was supposed to put an end to this reality. 

Now both parties find that they have lost the confidence of a substantial part of their voters. In the case of Five Star, they have little or no solution: not only have they sold out to the perks of power and politics, but they have also shown extraordinary incompetence on issues such as the abolition of poverty (Di Maio), the collapse of the "Ponte Morandi" (Toninelli) or the mass release of mafiosi with very serious blood crimes (Bonafede). Meanwhile, the League has it somewhat better because it continues to be a strong party in the most populated region of the country (Lombardy) and also in others such as Veneto, but this has not prevented Draghi's extraordinary intellectual and managerial stature from revealing the enormous personal shortcomings of Salvini, a more than obvious example of what we could call the "son of organic politics": no university degree; very weak both in parliamentary intervention and in the media; and even witty, as when he tried to travel to Moscow to achieve peace when no one had sent him to do so (which is why he had to cancel the trip).

We are entering a holiday phase and in principle the summer should be calm, but from September hostilities will begin because these two parties, like the rest, know that Draghi has nothing at stake: at almost 75 years of age, he has worked hard to guarantee himself the "golden retirement" he was in when Mattarella called him in February 2021 to take over the Council of Ministers, having already spent more than 500 days as "premier". But, whatever happens in the elections to the government of the Sicilian region (considered a traditional "laboratory" for what will happen in the next general elections, which incidentally happened "by the skin of my teeth" in March 2018), anything can happen. And who would have thought that the famous "taglio" of the number of MPs would end up turning against Five Star?

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is a professor at the Centro Universitario ESERP and author of the book "Historia de la Italia republicana, 1946-2021" (Madrid, Sílex Ediciones, 2021).