by Daniele Scalea

In ten years, from the Center-Right to the Right-Center

With the polls almost over at the time of writing, the news is the electoral victory of the Center-Right coalition: this has not happened since 2008. Italy will once again have a center-right government: missing since November 16, 2011 (the day the fourth Berlusconi government fell). A more than decade-long wilderness crossing, which delivers a coalition that only superficially resembles that of 2011. The parties are still the same: "Forza Italia" and "Fratelli d'Italia" (in 2011 there was "Popolo delle Libertà", from which the two descended), "Lega". But the balance of power is reversed: now in a dominant position is the "pure" right-wing party of Giorgia Meloni, while the "moderate" Forza Italia is third party. The League, interestingly enough, has almost exactly the same votes as in 2011 (it was 8.3 percent then, it is about 8.8 percent today), but in between is the national and personalistic turn (from Northern League to "Salvini Premier" League) and the roller coaster that took it to the abyss of 4 percent (2013) and to the peak of 34 percent (2019).

The historical dimension of this success

Forty-four percent is the level of support the Center-Right (or Right-Center) is expected to have achieved in yesterday's election. Seven percentage points more than in 2018, the best result since 2008, and the highest percentage achieved by the coalition in an election with more than two poles. In terms of seats, the Center-Right is expected to get 115 out of 200 in the Senate and 235 out of 400 in the House, or shares of 57.5 percent and 58.75 percent, respectively. This is the largest parliamentary majority obtained in elections by a coalition in the Second Republic. Excluding bipartisan or national unity governments formed by parliamentary game-playing over the course of a legislature, one has to go back thirty years for a larger majority delivered by the ballot box: during the Tenth Legislature (1987-1991), the "Pentapartite" coalition held 58.7 percent of the seats in the Senate and 59.8 percent in the House. But it was, of course, a more diverse and transversal coalition than the current Right-Center, imposed as it was by the fully proportional law then in force.

The false myth of "victory in the center"

For some years now, when commenting on election results, I have been warning against the (self-interested) sirens of journalists and pundits - almost always close to the Democratic Party (PD) - who are urging the right-wing parties to "moderate" and "centralize" in order to increase support. While it is necessary to find alliances in the center to form a majority coalition, I have always reiterated that, at least since the crisis of 2007-2011, the demand coming from the bulk of the Italian population is for strong and path-breaking positions. We are all well aware of how, in 2018, the "radical" or "anti-system" forces obtained a total of 61 percent of the consensus (this is the sum of the votes received by Five Star Movement, Lega, Fratelli d'Italia, and various far-right or far-left formations). It was assumed that the covid epidemic would alter this state of affairs, fueling a greater demand for "cautious," "moderate," and "reassuring" positions. Has this been the case?

Let's check it with the results of yesterday's vote and look for those of the parties that cannot be ascribed to the "moderate" and "pro-establishment" sphere: Fratelli d'Italia (FdI), Lega, Five Star Movement (very different from the one in 2018, but in the election campaign relaunched by Giuseppe Conte as a more radical leftist formation than the PD), Green and Left Alliance, Italexit, Popular Union, Sovereign and Popular Italy, Life, Italian Communist Party, Alternative for Italy. Well, the sum of the votes obtained by them is 59.28 percent. The trend seems, in short, unchanged.

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Other observations seem to suggest the same. The League, which as a sovereignist and national-populist party enjoyed a big success until it reached 34%, converted as Mario Draghi supporter and to policies that (in theory) were supposed to reassure "the Northern businessmen" collapses below 9%. FdI, with its "scandalous" tricolor flame in the symbol, is first party with 26%. The alliance between "Azione" and "Italia Viva" gets a decent 8 percent, but does not come close to proposing itself as a third pole, being nowhere near the Five Star Movement's 15 percent. The two more "moderate" crutches of the two major coalitions both remain below 1 percent, thus proving to be mere frills that disfavored their allies rather than helped them (below that threshold, votes are not returned to allies but dispersed): the reference is to "Noi con l'Italia" and "Impegno Civico". The latter in particular has resoundingly failed to challenge Giuseppe Conte for a pro-establishment Five Star Movement.

Now what?

Giorgia Meloni will be the next head of the Italian government. The first woman, certainly, but also the first right-wing person, without "center-" prefixes, in Republican history. She will have a great historical responsibility and not an easy task.

Winning elections is not the goal of politics: it is only a means to another means (governing), which in turn serves the purpose of achieving one's vision. From here to the achievement of such ends Giorgia Meloni will encounter many obstacles.

The main one will be the volubility of the electorate. Gone appears the season of long-standing leadership, that of Berlusconi or Prodi. Today voters, in their frantic search for the strong man/woman to straighten things out, fall in love first with Renzi, then Grillo, then Salvini, now Meloni, all within the space of not even a decade. With the same frenzy, faced with the failure to achieve what it expected, the electorate burns each idol to move on to the next, in a whirlwind of prodigious rises and ruinous falls. The arduous task, for the leader of Fratelli d'Italia, will be to break this destructive vortex and remain in vogue for more years.

If she succeeds, she will mark an era.

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Founder and President of Centro Studi Machiavelli. Graduated in Historical Sciences (University of Milan) and PhD in Political Studies (Sapienza University), he is professor of "History and doctrine of jihadism" and "Geopolitics of the Middle East" at Cusano University. From 2018 to 2019 he was Special Advisor on Immigration and Terrorism to the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Guglielmo Picchi. His latest book (as editor) is Topicality of sovereignism. Between pandemic and war.