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Italy’s muddle

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The anti-establishment 5-Stars Movement, led by Luigi Di Maio (pictured), was the highest vote-getter of any single party in Italy's recent election. The results confirmed the defeat of the two main political forces that have dominated Italian politics for decades — Forza Italia and the center-left Democrats.

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The results of Italy’s elections Sunday left the country, Europe, and Italy’s friends in a muddle.

The party with the largest percentage of votes was the relatively new Five Star Movement, with an estimated 31 percent. In order to form a government, it needs to build a coalition with other parties, yet the leadership has not agreed on which parties to approach. One leader said that Five Star would wait to see how other parties’ leaders reacted to the platform it would eventually present.

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Next, someone is required to meet with Italian President Sergio Mattarella to be asked to put together a government, a step which may serve to drive the process along. That would normally be Five Star leader Luigi Di Miao.

In the meantime, the election revealed the country to be divided sharply several different ways, notably between populists, led by the Five Star Movement, and a collection of sometimes almost fascistic parties, including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Italian Force party. There is also a regional character to the division. Five Star is strongest in the center and south. The League, the largest discernible element in the right, is strongest in Italy’s north.

There is skepticism about Italy’s continued membership in the European Union to be found among both the populists and the right. That sentiment is encourage by the EU’s approach to migration. Both Five Star and the League allegedly like Russia and Vladimir Putin more than they do the United States and Donald Trump. Neither side actually favors Italian withdrawal from the EU, the course the United Kingdom is following with Brexit, but Euroskeptics in both groups have talked about a referendum on continued EU membership. That, of course, was the gateway to the slippery slope that the Britain now finds itself on.

The unclear results of Italy’s elections were balanced in part in Europe by the final decision of the members of Germany’s Social Democrat Party, voting by 66 percent to form a coalition after five months of post-election wrangling and dithering, with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right, two-party political union, assuring some stability in German government for the immediate future.

Italy, Europe and the world are not unused to messiness in Italian politics. At the same time, the fact is that the various winners, if they can be called that, of Sunday’s elections have left the 60 million population of the EU’s third-largest economy with a monumental task — constructing a government from party positions that range from almost anarchy to almost fascism. The prospect is not comforting in this dangerous day and age.

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