Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned for the second time in a week on July 21, 2022, after the country’s president rejected an earlier attempt by the country’s president to step down.
_This time President Sergio Mattarella responded by dissolving Parliament. A new election is scheduled for the end of September. Meanwhile, Mattarella asks Draghi to step down as acting leader. His resignation comes a day after he won a trust vote in parliament, but in a way indicated that the broader ruling coalition was broken beyond repair.
That’s a lot to unpack. So The Conversation asked Carol Mershon, an expert in Italian politics at the University of Virginia, to explain the situation and what might happen next.
What’s going on in Italian politics?
Interesting few days. Mario Draghi, who was not elected to parliament but was invited to form the government by the president in February 2021, resigned twice. Draghi is serving as a non-partisan prime minister, leading a broad coalition of parties that form a unity government. But that alliance is broken. At first, members of the populist 5-Star Movement refused to vote on the government’s bill, worrying that the cost of living was insufficient, prompting Draghi’s earlier resignation.
This led to a vote of confidence on 20 July. Draghi won the ballot in the Senate with 95 votes in favor and 38 against. But it was by no means ringing support. The Senate has 315 seats—meaning that many lawmakers opted to vote “not vote,” “abstain from voting,” or were absent to vote. Thus, Draghi resigned again.
Why did Draghi step down after winning the vote of confidence?
Although Draghi technically survived the vote of confidence, it was not the kind of result he needed to stay on as prime minister. In addition to the 5-Star, other members of the ruling coalition, including the right-wing parties Forza Italia and the League, were dissatisfied.
Draghi has long emphasized that as a non-party leader, he needs the support of a broad coalition, especially at a time when the country faces serious economic and social challenges. He heads a unity government – and without unity among the parties, it would be difficult for him to govern.
The withdrawal of support by the parties and the break-up of the parties themselves, with some members of parliament leaving coalition partners, show that the coalition has now moved past the point of being able to operate in unity.
How many parties are there in the coalition? Do they share broadly similar politics?
As in Italian politics, there is no direct question to answer. When the Draghi government began in February 2021, it had cabinet ministers from six parties – the populist 5-Star Movement, the right-wing League and Forza Italia, the Democrats and its separate party, Italy Alive, and finally the progressive Article One. But six became seven when former 5-Star members formed another party, Together for the Future. Then counting the junior ministers in the alliance, three more parties joined.
Now you have more scattering of parties and departure of members as politicians maneuver for profit with elections on the horizon, which makes it even more difficult to tell exactly how many parties are in a coalition.
Coalition governments are not uncommon in Italy; In fact, they are ideal. But under Draghi was particularly widespread, moving away from progressive parties to far-right groups.
Why so many parties? And why the alliance?
Italy has a fragmented party system. I’ve done research that shows the average number of parties represented in Italy’s parliament between 1946 and 1992 was 12 – more than most democracies. Since then, the country has gone through a series of electoral reforms, but the multi-party system has remained in place.
There are three reasons behind Italy’s fragmented parliament. First, post-World War II Italian elections have always had a strong component of proportional representation – that is, the number of seats each party has is proportional to the number of votes it receives. So in Italy, a party that gets 5% of the national vote can expect to get 5% of the seats. Compare this with the UK system, in which a party that gets 5% of the national vote is likely to get zero seats.
Under Italy’s proportional representation laws, no party can form a majority of parliamentary seats by a majority of votes. And with so many parties, it is very unlikely that any one party can get an outright majority. So instead, the party with the largest non-majority must find a coalition to form a coalition government.
Second, the 1993 electoral law reforms created an incentive for Italian politicians to form or find new parties. After those reforms and the dissolution of the once dominant Christian Democratic Party – which by that time was the largest party in every post-war Italian government – political entrepreneurs found that they focused more attention by forming new parties, or breaking away from existing ones. can attract. parties. We’re seeing some of this now with the high-profile departure from 5-Star. This is when politicians want to set themselves up for the next election.
Third, the breakdown of traditional politics in Italy encouraged the formation of new parties. It used to be that voters cared about where a party stood in two areas: left-right politics, and whether they were secular or religious.
he changed. Now, voters are driven not only by left-right politics but also by a number of factors, such as whether a party is pro or anti-EU, or whether it is tolerant of immigration or anti-immigration. So you get parties like 5-star that are anti-immigrant and anti-EU, but don’t fit so well on the left-right political axis.
Are the alliances on the verge of failure?
Not necessarily. Italy has experienced several relatively stable alliances. Romano Prodi’s coalition government lasted from 1996 to the end of 1998. He faced a lot of problems during that period, but Prodi managed to keep that alliance going. And in the 1980s, the coalition put together by socialist Benedetto Craxi lasted four years. Craxi’s coalition suffered a brief hiccup – it fell apart, then was quickly rebuilt – but was composed of the same parties.
And if you look at the European horizon, there is a common form of coalition government. An alliance is the norm in Germany, and they are quite common in Scandinavian countries as Norway. And they often live longer.
I don’t think alliances are inherently unstable. Draghi is a relatively popular figure, but his coalition has faced challenges ranging from economic problems and Italy’s response to the pandemic to an immigration crisis that will not go away. The tipping point on the government’s response to the cost of life crisis was a fight – the 5-star was prompting Draghi to do more to support the hard-pressed Italians. And Draghi has said he would not rule without the support of 5-Star, the largest party in Italy’s parliament when parliamentary elections were held in 2018.
So what happens next?
The election is now expected to be held in late September. Until then, it looks like Draghi will remain as prime minister in a caretaker capacity. Meanwhile, it is likely that there will be some further fragmentation within the parties represented in parliament as politicians maneuver for electoral gains. Yet at this point politicians also have to consider the risk of sounding irresponsible and fickle, with parliamentary elections coming up very soon.