The Local’s complete guide to the Italian election: what you need to know

On March 4th, Italians go to the polls in a long-awaited general election. Here's The Local's election coverage from the past few months -- including explainers and analysis, profiles of the key people and parties, and daily recaps of the campaign -- all in one place.

The Local's complete guide to the Italian election: what you need to know
A view over Rome's rooftops. Photo: vkovalcik/Depositphotos

The basics

Here's everything you need to know about Italy's 2018 election, and if you want to start from the very beginning, here are ten key things to know about the Italian political system.

Just to keep things interesting, this election is taking place using a brand new, never before tested electoral law. Here's how it works. 

Brush up on your Italian politics vocabulary with our list of key Italian words and phrases to brush up on to understand the election.

And take a look at what each of the parties has promised the electorate in their bid to come out on top: These are the promises Italy's political parties have made to voters. After that, see how Italians took to social media to parody some of the more outlandish pledges. And see how if the sums add up with this explainer: Do the numbers add up for Italy's political campaign pledges? 

What will happen after the election is anyone's guess, but take a look at some of the possible post-vote scenarios here.

What to expect after the Italian election: a look at the possible outcomes
A woman looks at the board bearing the parties' logos. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The parties

There are four major parties in Italy (each polling at above ten percent of the vote). Here are our cheat sheets to help you get to grips with their origins, ideology, and major players:

But it's not all apart the big parties. Italy's political system favours coalitions, so the country's many smaller parties can play pivotal roles. Here's an introduction to Italy's small political parties.

The party leaders in Italy's centre-right coalition: Silvio Berlusconi, Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini. Photo: Livio Anticoli/AFP

The people

There's an enormous cast of characters in this year's election. These are the main faces you'll need to know.

For in-depth profiles of the main parties' leaders, click the links below:

But it's not all about the men leading the major parties. Don't miss our look at the five women set to play key roles in the Italian election, or our interview with Lucia Annibali: Meet the acid attack survivor running for office in the Italian election.

As for the current PM, Paolo Gentiloni, there's a possibility he'll keep his job after voting day — a solution many Italians would be very pleased with. Read more here: Who is Paolo Gentiloni, the steady hand of Italian politics?

Who is Matteo Renzi? The former Italian PM who swiftly fell from grace
Matteo Renzi speaks to press. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP


Go beyond the headlines and explore the deeper issues in the election with our in-depth features:

Is Italy's Five Star Movement still an 'anti-establishment' party?
Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

Campaign refresher

In the run-up to voting day, we've brought you daily recaps of the who, what, and why of Italian politics. Need a catch-up? Here are the recaps in chronological order, or you can browse through them all here.

A museum, Masons, and missing millions: Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy, led a protest outside Turin's Egyptian Museum over a discount it offered for Arabic speakers. Meanwhile, one M5S candidate was revealed to have links to the Freemasons, while others were found to have pocketed up to €1 million that was meant to be set aside for small businesses.

Five Star problems, surreal debates, and a Berlusconi burn: President of the Lower House Laura Boldrini went up against Matteo Salvini of the Northern League in the first TV debate of the campaign, Meloni was attacked while on the campaign trail, and Berlusconi revived old plans for a bridge to Sicily.

Candidate chatter, a Roman ransom, and half of Five Stars: The M5S proposed that all parties should agree to halve lawmakers' salaries in the next parliament, and Berlusconi claimed: “Nothing can change in the next two weeks.”

Polls, protesters, and populism: We looked at the results of the last official opinion polls, Matteo Renzi begged the other PM candidates to talk to him in a TV debate, Salvini took his campaign south, and the M5S threatened to sue its candidates who were linked to the Freemasons.

What you need to know about Italy's 2018 election

A dapper Italian casting his vote in a previous election. Photo: AFP

A weekend of protests: There were more protests and clashes as far-right fringe parties attempted to hold rallies in Naples and Venice on Sunday, and elsewhere PM Paolo Gentiloni promised to exempt over-75's from the TV licence fee.

An election emoji: The election got its own emoji, a stinky rubbish scandal rumbled on in Campania, and Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin claimed ballot papers made it too confusing to vote.

The campaign turns violent: After a week of tense rallies, two political activists were attacked while campaigning: an extreme-right leader was bound and beaten in a brutal assault in Palermo, and another campaigner was stabbed in Perugia.

Free flights to Italy? One party promised free flights to Italy to Italians overseas, an Amnesty report warned Italy was “steeped in hate”, and the M5S finalized its team.

Italy braces for yet more protests: Protesters clashed with police, again, a M5S candidate was probed over suspected money-laundering, and Berlusconi said Salvini wouldn't become PM.

Italy's latest candidate for prime minister is a real clown: British comedian John Oliver, who hosts a satirical news show on US TV, threw his hat into the ring – because “yes, Italy, my candidacy for prime minister may be a complete and total farce, but be honest: incredibly, I am far from your worst option”.

Who needs an election when you've got snow? As the snow distracted many of us from the pending vote, we looked at Berlusconi's latest hinting at his PM candidate, and criticism of the League from none other than one of the party's most senior members.

The campaign goes down the toilet: One centre-right candidate shot a video of himself on the toilet, in which he described M5S leader Di Maio as a laxative. Elsewhere, we looked at why Italians won't get to put their ballots in the ballot box.




Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.