In the first round of Italy’s municipal elections (early June) the governing Democratic Party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi suffered big setbacks. This was the case in both the metropolitan heartlands of the north and centre and across the whole of the south.
In 24 of the biggest towns and cities it lost upwards of 300,000 votes. Over the weekend of 25-26 June in second round ballots in around 120 places, the Democratic Party was routed. This included the country’s key cities — Rome, Torino, Milan Bologna, Napoli, Trieste.
In Torino and Rome the victors were from Grillo’s populist Five Star Movement. In Napoli, where the government party didn’t even make it to the final ballot, the radical independent magistrate, De Magistris crushed the divided and fragmented forces of the centre-right. But the same divided forces were united enough in Trieste to unseat the Democrats’ candidate. And where the PD finally did just cross the finishing line ahead, in Milan and Bologna, the government party relied heavily on the support of the affluent and conservative quarters of both cities.
What emerges crystal clear is the mounting exhaustion of the “modernising” dynamic of the populist wave launched with the arrival of Renzi simultaneously to party leader and head of government, and the apex of its appeal in a 41% vote at the 2014 European elections. Though the PD was backed to the hilt by the country’s rich and powerful, and Berlusconi (!), in the regional elections a year later, even then with massive abstentions, we saw the start of the dispersion of the energy of the much acclaimed regeneration of the corrupt-ridden and arthritic Italian capitalist formation. The ritual parade of forecasts and promises that the country was now on the point of exiting two decades of retreat and stagnation has had to end. The project of the would-be Bonaparte from Florence, and his “party of the Nation”, has ground to a halt.
The coming constitutional referendum may, whatever the outcome, seal the fate of the Renzi phenomenon. This is an institutional reform conceived in the wake of Renzi’s 2014 victory in the euro elections and projected, along with a new electoral law, to copper fasten executive power.
Today it looks more than likely that Renzi’s future adversary in a general election will be Grillo’s party. But before that, in October’s referendum, there cold be a massive rejection of Renzi, and as a consequent upheaval the Democratic Party, in a context of wider economic and political instability.
There is nothing in the arsenal of the 5 Star Movement’s utopian nostrums or demagogic fantasies, and even less in their brief record of political office in several local councils, to suggest anything but disaster if Italy’s despairing masses turn to it.