Columns 2.3.2018 09:20 am

Trump impact on Italy poll

Trump impact on Italy poll

Silvio Berlusconi is back as the man behind the right-wing coalition that may form the next government in Italy.

Just one month before Italy’s national elections this Sunday, Luca Miniero’s satirical movie Sono Tornato (“I’m Back”) hit the screens all over the country.

It imagined the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini returning to the Italy of 2018, and its timing was perfect.

“The Italians, unlike the Germans, never dealt with their dictator, they have never removed him,” said Miniero. “Watching what is happening today in our country, I am convinced that if Mussolini came back he would win the election.”

But of course, Mussolini isn’t coming back. It’s only Berlusconi again.

The Italian counterpart of Donald Trump has been prime minister four times, and he has been banned from political office for six years because of a conviction for tax fraud. He is also 81 years old.

But they forgot to put a stake through his heart, and Berlusconi is back as the man behind the right-wing coalition that may form the next government in Italy.

It certainly won’t be the populist Five-Star Movement, which refuses to enter coalitions with other parties.

According to the last opinion poll, it will emerge as the largest single party, with about 28% of the vote, but that’s not nearly enough.

The governing centre-left coalition, whose parties are running separately because of their many disagreements, will end up in about the same place. Its biggest member, the Democratic Party, will get around 23%, but with various smaller allies it might make it up to 30%.

Whereas Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Let’s Go, Italy), running in tandem with the hard-right, anti-immigrant Northern League, are likely to get close to 40% of the vote. If they then make deals with a few small parties that do verge on fascism, they could form a government.

The dark-horse candidate is Giorgia Meloni, the Trump-lite leader of one of the smaller parties, Brothers of Italy, but it would probably be the Northern League’s leader, Matteo Salvini.

You might call Salvini Trump-heavy: he hailed Trump’s election as “the revenge of the people, of courage, of pride…and one in the eye for the bankers, the speculators and the journalists”.

Italians are quite justifiably fed up with the way their country has been run in recent years. Unemployment is 11%, but among the under-25s it is close to 40%, and over 100 000 young people left the country last year in search of work elsewhere.

Average family incomes, which fell dramatically after the 2008 financial crisis, have still not recovered to the 2007 level.

But the biggest issue is immigration: in the past four years Italy has received 600 000 illegal migrants, mostly from African countries, and all the major parties are promising to do something about it.

Berlusconi calls the million or more illegal migrants living in Italy a “social time bomb ready to explode”, and talks about mass deportations. His prospective coalition partner, the Northern League, puts a number on it: 100 000 repatriated a year.

Since Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, three Western European countries – the Netherlands, France and Germany – have had elections in which nationalist, anti-immigrant parties that are hostile to the European Union, or at least to the euro common currency, have done better than ever before, but have not won power.

In Italy, they may actually win.

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