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Spotlight: Analysts cautious on risks of instability in post-election Italy
Last Updated: 2018-03-07 08:19 | Xinhua
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Some Italian analysts warned caution on the risk of a protracted instability in Italy, despite general election held on Sunday delivered a hung parliament.

After the vote, the Italian scenario showed anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) was the single most-voted party with over 32 percent of the votes.

However, a center-right coalition of three parties garnered over 37 percent altogether, winning more seats in parliament. Within such bloc, rightwing anti-immigrant League party became the strongest force (exceeding 17 percent from 4 percent in the previous 2013 election).

The third major contender, a center-left coalition, gathered a little over 22 percent, and would likely be the major opposition force.

Neither the M5S nor the center-right has the necessary majority in parliament to rule alone, and negotiations among all political forces will be necessary.

Italy's two major populist forces indeed performed the best result, and would therefore have to play a key role in the forthcoming efforts to forge a government. Yet, this will require a dialogue that could take weeks to complete.

Analysts did not deny the political panorama was fragmented, but remained prudent on the risk of a prolonged gridlock or a major period of instability.

"There are two options now," Federico Niglia, International Relations professor with the LUISS University in Rome, told Xinhua.

"Firstly, the task to lead talks and try to form a coalition government may be conferred to the M5S' leader, Luigi Di Maio," he said. "In the second scenario, the same task is conferred to the leader of the center-right."

In any case, the next move was up to Italian president Sergio Mattarella, whose institutional role was specifically to broker political talks after a national vote.

According to Paolo Feltrin, Political Sciences professor with the University of Trieste, any future government would be tasked with managing current affairs, and not of major reforms.

Somehow, according to the expert, this fragmentation was expected. "We have to keep in mind the new electoral law (passed in late 2017) implemented in this vote was meant to be applied one time only, and was not due to deliver a large majority," Feltrin stressed.

He explained the goal was to allow Italians to vote, as due, and charge the new parliament with two major tasks only -- First, approve a limited reform of the constitution to partially give more power to the government over the parliament.

Secondly -- and only after the first step was completed -- the parliament should outline another electoral law, with a stronger first-past-the-post mechanism.

According to the scholar, in this plan was implicit the idea that the new parliament would have to last only until these two goals were achieved.

"Meanwhile, any government in charge will have to manage current affairs only, and no one will expect it to implement major policies. As such, the risk of instability is limited," Feltrin explained.

In such perspective, any government to come now would have no need of a large parliamentary majority, the expert added.

In terms of what force would be more reliable once at the government -- regardless of how long this legislature might last -- the LUISS analyst saw more reasons for concerns in the Five Star Movement.

"If the M5S succeeds in forming a government, it may take decisions (to raise public spending) that cast doubts on the sustainability of our finances," Niglia said.

Furthermore -- since the M5S has indeed campaigned on a platform critical towards the European Union's (EU) fiscal policies -- it might also take a tough stand towards the euro.

Such steps might weaken Italy's long-standing pro-European position. "However, I would remain prudent in considering these risks, because the M5S' program is still unclear and partially unknown... so, it may never take such path," Niglia stressed.

"Secondly, these decisions would not be immediate in any case. As such, I do not think we have to fear for something resounding and alarming in the short period."

The second option -- negotiations led by the center-right, and a possible coalition government ruled by the League -- appeared to be less risky to the analyst.

The populist League -- led by Matteo Salvini -- run a very aggressive campaign targeting "the establishment", the migrants, and some EU policies. Yet, it also has a long tradition of government at both national and local level in the last 20 years.

"The truth it that the League has rarely acted as an 'anti-system' party, when it was in the government. So, the question now is what Matteo Salvini will decide to do," Niglia said.

Would the League keep discrediting EU rules, or would it be able to "convert its criticism in constructive proposals" to reform the Union?

According to Niglia, a reason for moderate hope was that the League would have to share power with center-right Forza Italia party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which was a pro-European force.

A source of major concern -- perhaps the most relevant for EU partners and international investors -- was Italy's huge public debt, equal to 132 percent of GDP. Would the rise of populist forces endanger Italy's pledge in terms of debt reduction?

"I do not really see such a risk, because Italy has put such commitment into its constitution," Paolo Feltrin answered.

He referred to the European Fiscal Compact Treaty, which introduced stricter rules for EU member states in terms of fiscal policies and national budgets. It was indeed signed by Italy in 2012, and implemented by constitution since 2014, and it required all signatories to maintain a "balanced budget".

Having incorporated it into its constitution, Italy could not dismiss now that restraint through an ordinary law, but only try to renegotiate the rules at EU level, eventually.

"Somehow, our public debt is under partial EU control, and no government can change that," Feltrin stressed.

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