University of California, Los Angeles

Italy First? A Big Win for Populism in Italy by Anais Lopez @ University of California, Los Angeles

Last year, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five-Star Movement (M5S), a far-right populist party in Italy, stated, “The only possibility for the other parties is to support a Five Star government. We are the only chance of stability. Either they support us or they vote again” (Kettley).  This month, Di Maio and his party successfully won about one third of the votes for the parliamentary election and now hold the largest share of seats in Italy’s parliament.

Under monarchic rule for most of its history, Italy became a parliamentary republic following a national referendum in 1946. In 1948, it successfully adopted its constitutional charter that outlined the civil and political liberties of its people and the rights and powers that were to be given to its president and parliament under the First Republic. In 1992, political scandals and controversy rocked the country and major changes were made to the parties, thus creating the current Second Republic.

Around the world, right-wing populism and populist leaders appear to be on the rise. Müller defines populist as being “angry” voters who are “frustrated or suffer from resentment” (What Is Populism?). They are often anti-establishment and seek to find a way out of their economic and social crisis’. It seems countries are seeking to put themselves ‘first’ against what populist leaders have shaped to be ‘enemies of the state.’ Populism is a not a new phenomenon; in the 1940’s, Hitler’s rise to power under its ideals and its rhetoric pushed the world into the Second World War. Today, with the influx of refugees from the Middle East, immigrants from Africa and Mexico, and failing economies that need an explanation, leaders of far-right populist groups are taking advantage of the people’s frustration and utilizing it to fuel their platforms.

From the US to Europe, countries have seen big wins for the far-right populist parties. Seeking to look out for, what they consider to be, in the ‘best interest’ of the country, populist parties, leaders, and positions have spread to the people and they have come to support them. In June of 2016, Britain narrowly voted to pull out of the European Union with a 53.4% vote in favor of it (Wheeler and Hunt). That same year, despite having lost the popular vote, the United States elected Republican nominee Donald Trump, who ran under racist, xenophobic, and protectionist ideals and the slogan ‘Make America Great Again.’ In France, the National Front has had a significant share in the voting system and has kept its presence known through the country, most notably with its strong-border-anti-refugee stance. Now, with this month’s election, Italy has officially joined in this trend.

For many, these ideals are troubling and have caused the international system to worry about the future of globalization. Most of the right-wing populists are closing their borders to immigrants and refugees and enacting protectionist policies to protect their own economies. In Europe, this trend could have great impacts on the refugees seeking to escape war zones in the Middle East and the humanitarian crisis’ in Africa.

On March 5, 2018, the right-wing populist of the world gained another big win; this time in Italy’s election. The M5S in Italy is a far right, anti-establishment party in Italy founded in 2009. Favoring right wing ideology including the expelling of all undocumented immigrants, opposing alliances with other parties, and advocating for direct democracy, the M5S has come to appeal to many Italians. The party secured the win of 233 of the total 630 votes on, making it the biggest win for any party in Italy. Prior to the election, it appeared that many leaders around the world had attempted to deny and down play this incredible world-wide rise of populism. European Commissioner President Jean-Claude Juncker stated, “I am confident that we will have a government that makes sure Italy remains a central player in Europe” mistakenly hoping that the right-wing party would not gain as many seats as it did. Overall, M5S won 32.22% of the vote and a change of 6.62 from their previous holdings (Henley and Voce).

There have been many factors that have pushed for this change in political ideology in Italy. Most notably, the disparities between the North and the South that have been increasing over the years due to their geographical and economic differences. The disparities between the North and the South that have been increasing over the years due to their geographical and economic differences. Between 2001 and 2016, Italy’s “economy shrank 7.2 percent” and unemployment in the north stands at 18 percent compared to a much lower 6.6 percent in the south. Using their populist diction and propaganda, the Five Star promised to help the 4.7 million Italians living in poverty, committing to stand up for them and introducing a “monthly minimum income of up to 780 euros” (Balmer). By attracting and appealing to this voter, the Five Star Movement has worked its way up.

In addition, the south is facing an influx of immigrants and refugees from Africa. Immigration from Africa has caused social and political unrest. Many cite the fear of “hundreds of thousands of recently arrived migrants” for the frustration of the Italian citizens and the idea that they are to blame for the lack of jobs available to the people (Tharoor). In 2016, Italy saw a record number of refugees and immigrants entering the country; nearly 200,000 (Why Is Italy Seeing a Record Number of Migrants?). As populist have, the Five-Star movement has pointed the finger at these immigrants for the social and economic problems that Italy is facing. Refugees and immigrants are facing humanitarian crisis’s that will worsen if they are not allowed into these countries when they permanently close their borders and punish them for entering. Currently, BBC reports that more than “20 million people” from Africa “face the threat of starvation and famine” and thus all across they are seeking refuge in Southern Europe (Why Is Italy Seeing a Record Number of Migrants?”).

The Five Star Movement’s win for Italy’s right wing is not only a problem for Italy, but for all of Europe who need Italy’s support in the European Union (E.U) that has yet to recover from the Eurozone crisis. The E.U. is one of Europe’s most important institutions and has helped the spread of globalization.  Globalization has cause a dependence of countries to work together under these major economic institutions and the inaction of protectionist policies could hurt that further. According to Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star Movement wishes to remain in the EU but “change some of the rules” (Kettley). These rules, of course, would work more in Italy’s favor. In addition, refugees and immigrants are facing humanitarian crisis’s that will worsen if they are not allowed into these countries when they permanently close their borders and punish them for entering.

For now, the Five Star Movement holds a great share of seats in Italy’s multi-party system. It is still unclear who, if anyone, the M5S will form a coalition with. In addition, what changes, the magnitude of these changes, and how these changes will come about are unsure. However, one thing is certain: Populism is on the rise and Italy’s election is further proof to its existence.


Works Cited:

Balmer, Crispian. “Italian Election Lays Bare Gaping North-South Divide.” Reuters, Thomson

Reuters, 9 Mar. 2018,


Henley, Jon, and Voce, Antonio. “Italian Elections 2018 – Full Results.” The Guardian,

Guardian News and Media, 5 Mar. 2018,


Kettley, Sebasitian. “Italian Election 2018: What Happens If Five Star Movement Wind Italy

General Election?”,, 5 Mar. 2018,


Müller, Jan Wener, 2016. “What Is Populism?”. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of

Pennsylvania Press.


Tharoor, Ishaan. “Analysis | Italy’s Election Is Another Blow to the European Establishment.”

The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Mar. 2018,


Wheeler, Alex Hunt & Brian. “Brexit: All You Need to Know About the UK Leaving the EU.”

BBC News, BBC, 3 Mar. 2018,


“Why Is Italy Seeing a Record Number of Migrants?” BBC News, BBC, 29 Nov. 2016,


***Photo by Google Images; US News World Report





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