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POLITICS

Italy’s new parliament is younger, more diverse and more female

Italy may not have a government yet, but it does have nearly 1,000 new legislators.

Italy's new parliament is younger, more diverse and more female
Italy's chamber of deputies in session in 2015. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Two weeks after Italians voted, Italy's 315 newly elected senators have been registering at the houses of parliament in Rome since Monday and the 630 new deputies began registering on Tuesday, in preparation for the first session of Italy's 18th parliament this Friday.

Is the 18th any different from the 17th? Quite a bit. Even aside from who's in power, there are a number of novelties this time round.

Here's a round-up of what's new in Italy's latest parliament.

  • The Five Star Movement dominates

Let's start with the numbers. A few seats in both houses have yet to be assigned, but in the Senate the four-party centre-right bloc has the most confirmed seats (135), followed by the Five Star Movement (M5S) with 112. The centre-left has 57 seats and the left-wing newcomer Free and Equal (LeU) has four.

In the Chamber of Deputies, the centre-right has 260 seats, the M5S has 221, the centre-left has 112 and LeU has 14.

Italy's League opens the door to a deal with Five Stars
Matteo Salvini of the League (L) and the M5S's uigi Di Maio. Photos: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The biggest gains were made by the M5S, which nearly tripled its seats across both houses from 123 to 333; and by the League, which went from 33 seats to 110. The worst performer was the Democratic Party, which lost 209 seats to take it to a total of 169.

Given the M5S's drive to elect “outsiders”, not career politicians, their gains have had a considerable impact on the demographics of Italy's parliament. 

  • It's younger

The median age in Italy's Senate – which candidates must be at least 40 to enter – has fallen to its lowest ever: just over 52, according to Rai News. The Chamber of Deputies, or lower house – minimum age 25 – is even younger, with a median age of 44.

The babies of the bunch are Alberto Stefani, a deputy for the League who turned 25 just four months ago, and Senator Francesco Laforgia of Free and Equal, who celebrated his 40th birthday last month.

  • There are more women

Women make up around 34 percent of the new legislature, the highest proportion yet.

Five women set to play important roles in the Italian election
Clockwise L-R: Legislators Emma Bonino, Giorgia Meloni, Beatrice Lorenzin, Maria Elena Boschi, Laura Boldrini. Photos: Tiziana Fabi, Alberto Pizzoli, Andreas Solaro/AFP

It's an improvement on 31 percent in the last parliament but short of the target set by Italy's new electoral law, which said that 40 percent of parties' top candidates had to be female. Since parties were able to put the same candidate at the head of several lists, however, the requirement didn't translate directly into seats.

  • The Senate is no longer all white  

This parliament includes Italy's first ever black senator: Toni Iwobi, who represents the League. A naturalized Italian citizen born in Nigeria, Iwobi made a name for himself by helping to shape the party's anti-immigration platform.


Toni Iwobi with Matteo Salvini in 2014. Photo: Gian Mattia D'Alberto/AFP

  • There are some names you'll recognize…

Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister who led the Democratic Party to a humiliating defeat, may be resigning as party leader but he'll be taking a seat in the Senate, representing his home town of Florence. Meanwhile Matteo Salvini, who steered the League to unprecedented electoral gains, is also entering the upper house as senator for somewhere very far from his home town – Calabria (he's from Milan). 

Other familiar faces include Italy's longest serving legislator, Democratic senator Pier Ferdinando Casini, elected for the tenth time after 35 years in parliament; and doyenne of the left Emma Bonino, who's beginning her ninth term. And making his comeback after a five-year absence is Umberto Bossi, co-founder of the Northern League since rebranded by Salvini; he first took a seat there in 1987.

  • … and many you won't

At least, not in a political context. Most of Italy's senators – 64 percent – are new to parliament and around a third have never held office before at any level. 

Across both houses, many new legislators didn't start out in politics: there are around 80 lawyers, 30 journalists and 30 or so doctors, not to mention academics, accountants, teachers, a farmer and a champion sailor, among others.


Skipper Andrea Mura is now an elected deputy for the M5S. Photo: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP

The Five Star Movement is largely responsible for the new blood: it deliberately selected candidates who had never held office before, even striking off some who were found to have held local posts.

READ MORE:

ITALIAN POLITICS

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.

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