What the election result tells us about Italy’s north-south divide

The Italian election was a rejection of traditional left and right parties in both the north and south of the country -- but for different reasons, experts said.

What the election result tells us about Italy's north-south divide
Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio speaking after the election. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The far-right League party conquered the north, worried about the rise in immigration, while the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) took the south where concerns about the economy dominate.

“In the south, the Five Star vote was a protest of a part of the country that feels neglected as the economic recovery is only being felt in the north,” said Roberto D'Alimonte, politics professor at Rome's Luiss university.

AS IT HAPPENED: Uncertainty ahead as Italy election results come in

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

“We can't be surprised that southern regions, where youth unemployment has spiked and traditional parties have failed to resolve the problem, voted massively in favour of a movement that expresses resentment and anger.”

Disillusionment had already made itself felt in a constitutional referendum in 2016 in which southern Italy voted massively against both the proposed reform and then prime minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left government.

Political expert Giovanni Orsina said the election represented a “transition” between the old political order and a new one, delivering “a clear message”.

“It is clear that the two weak links in this phase were the (centre-left) Democratic Party and Forza Italia (Go Italy), Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party, which have been in power for decades.”

A right-wing coalition including the League and Forza Italia came first in Sunday's vote with 37 percent, but Berlusconi's party was unexpectedly beaten into second place by the League within the alliance.

'Feeling abandoned'

League leader Matteo Salvini, 45, has positioned himself as “a proud populist”.

“Italy is fed up with champagne socialists,” he said.

With 17 percent of the vote, the party has done particularly well in relatively wealthy areas of northern Italy where concerns about security and immigration are high and euroscepticism is rife.

Italy's stock market slides after uncertain election result
Matteo Salvini speaking after the vote. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

“The most important thing that Salvini says is 'Italians first'. I'm not racist but I think that people who come to Italy should come here to work and not commit crimes or violence like rapes,” Evaristo Bellu, a 56-year-old supporter of the League, told AFP.

Sebastien Maillard, head of the Jacques Delors Institute, said Italians were traditionally europhile. But opinion polls showed “they are very disappointed because they expected a lot more from Europe, particularly a strong immigration policy,” Maillard said.

“There is a strong feeling of being abandoned, a feeling that Europe has left them to their sorry fate on immigration.”

READ ALSO: What does Italy's election result mean for the EU?

For many commentators of Italian politics, the result of the election is a snapshot of a country in the grip of fears about immigration and the economy. The M5S has proposed a universal basic income and a tax cut, while the League wants to help Italian businesses and deport hundreds of thousands of migrants.

In an interview with Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, former White House adviser Steve Bannon hailed an “earthquake” in Italian politics.

“There are definitely policy differences between the Five Star Movement and the Lega (League) and also some of the other populist movements on the right,” he said.

But he added their gains were “a strong signal to the permanent political class in Europe that people, and particularly people in Italy, want change and they want change now.”

By Franck Iovene


Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Italy's outgoing government is easing measures against coronavirus from Saturday despite an increase in cases, weeks before handing over to a far-right administration that has criticised the tough restrictions.

Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government said it would not renew regulations requiring FFP2 face masks to be worn on public transport – these expired on Friday.

However, it has extended for another month the requirement to wear face masks in hospitals and other healthcare settings, as well as residential facilities for the elderly.

READ ALSO:  Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

By the time that rule expires on October 31, a new government led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni is expected to be in place — with a very different attitude to Covid-19 restrictions than Draghi’s.

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has had some of the toughest restrictions.

Last winter, it required certain categories of workers to be vaccinated and demanded proof of a negative test, recent recovery from the virus or vaccination — the so-called Green pass — to enter public places.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

The pass was strongly criticised by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which swept to a historic victory in elections on Sunday.

“We are against this certificate, full stop,” the party’s head of health policy, Marcello Gemmato, La Repubblica newspaper on Friday.

He said it gave “false security” because even after vaccination, people could get and spread coronavirus.

Gemmato said vaccines should be targeted at older people and those with health problems, but not be obligatory, adding that the requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated would not be renewed when it expires at
the end of the year.

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

Cases of coronavirus are rising slightly again in Italy, likely due to the return of schools and universities.

More than 177,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy since the start of the pandemic.