November 30, 2022
The collapse of the Draghi administration in Italy and the
significance of the 2022 general election
By ITO Takeshi
In Italy, which had been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as well as long-term economic stagnation, Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who is a former president of the European Central Bank (ECB), has negotiated a recovery fund with the European Union (EU) and has been in power as a trump card for economic management since assuming office in February 2021. However, in July 2022, due to confrontations over economic management, which has been suffering as a result of inflation following the Ukraine crisis, the Five Star Movement announced its withdrawal from the government, which led to a political crisis and the announcement of Prime Minister Draghi’s resignation.
The next general election was originally scheduled to be held in the spring of 2023, and there were also plans to overcome this with a caretaker government. However, due to the circumstances of political parties such as the dominant center-right faction, who wanted elections, and the Five Star Movement, who wanted to use the elections as momentum for restoring their party’s power, as well as Prime Minister Draghi’s wish to avoid easy compromises on reform packages, which is a condition of the recovery fund due to conflicts within his political party, on September 25, general elections were held in the fall for the first time since World War II.
The focus of the election campaign was whether the center-right faction, which had an overwhelming advantage in opinion polls, would win, and what impact that would have on not only economic management but also relations with the EU and the response to the Ukraine crisis. Among the center-right factions, support for Lega, led by M. Salvini, and Forza Italia, led by S. Berlusconi, which had been dominant forces since the 2018 general election, dropped significantly to about 10% and 7%, respectively, due to criticism of their participation in the Draghi administration and intraparty conflicts. Meanwhile, Brothers of Italy, led by G. Meloni, who continued to criticize the current administration without participating in it, rapidly increased its power and had an approval rating in the mid-20% range in the final opinion poll before the general election vote, cementing its status as the premier party in the country. In contrast, on the center-left side, support for the Democratic Party, led by E. Letta, was around 20% and on a downward trajectory. Additionally, the Five Star Movement that was spearheaded by former Prime Minister G. Conte had recovered from its initial stagnation to reach the low 10% range. Additionally, the coalition of centrist C. Calenda and former Prime Minister M. Renzi formed the Third Pole, carrying with them momentum of around 7% and situated on the cusp of having a casting vote. Nonetheless, under the electoral system of proportional representation with single-member constituency, most of the predictions were that the center-right would win most of the single-seat constituencies and secure a stable majority.
In terms of policy, the international community and opposing factions expressed concerns that the emergence of a radical right-wing government would lead to a deterioration in relations with the EU, a shift in support for Ukraine and a withdrawal from Russia’s sanction net, undisciplined economic management, and a withdrawal from democracy as occurred in Hungary. However, from the beginning of the election campaign, Meloni, who set her eye on the formation of a center-right government, appealed for realistic responses such as the receipt of recovery funds, economic policy management, relations with the EU, and continued support for Ukraine. Nonetheless, from the middle of the campaign onward, struggles of Lega and Forza Italia and reports that the Five Star Movement was making a comeback in the south of Italy with the promotion of basic income to support the economically impoverished resulted in the radicalization of the appeals made by each party. The Democratic Party, with party leader Letta at the helm, leveraged its alliance with the German Social Democratic Party to increase its negative campaigns to criticize the center-right faction for its lack of international legitimacy. Lega and Forza Italia, with an eye toward easing sanctions against Russia because of high prices, began to discuss the need to review and re-evaluate the confrontational stance taken with Russian President Putin. Meloni herself also voiced her opposition to a vote against Hungary in the European Parliament and declared her support for Spain’s radical right-wing Vox party.
Elections were held on September 25, and amidst record-low voter turnout, the center-right faction emerged victorious. Voter turnout, which had been on a downward trajectory in recent years, dropped 10 points from the previous election to 63.9%. This indicated that one-third of voters did not go to the polls. It is thought that the conflict between political parties and the fact that no party could propose a solution had the effect of reducing voter interest. The center-right faction secured a stable majority of 237 and 115 in the upper and lower houses of the Italian Parliament (200 and 400, respectively). Among these seats, Brothers of Italy won a landslide victory of 119 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, whereas Forza Italia and Lega performed worse than expected and dropped to 45 and 66 seats, respectively. In contrast, the Five Star Movement performed well, winning 52 seats, whereas the center-left faction suffered a crushing defeat, winning 84 seats.
The election results were largely as expected and showed the likely emergence of the establishment of a center-right coalition government that centered on Meloni. As of the time of submission of the manuscript, negotiations are underway within the center-right faction toward the first session of Parliament scheduled for October 13 and the formation of the cabinet after this meeting as well as discussions on policy routes. Although it is generally assumed that reinforced measures for refugees, re-negotiation with the EU over the receipt of recovery funds, support for Ukraine, and sanctions against Russia are generally realistic paths forward, conflicts both inside and outside of the cabinet are also becoming apparent. It can be said that the direction of the country’s politics will first depend on the composition of the new government and how it will proceed.
(This is the English translation of an article written by ITO Takeshi, Academic Member, GFJ / Professor, The University of Tokyo , which originally appeared on the e-Forum “Giron-Hyakushutsu” of GFJ on October 5, 2022.)