Italians vote on 4 March in election that could shake the EU

Italian President Sergio Mattarella dissolved both houses of parliament, ending a tumultous five-year legislature that saw three prime ministers, the demise of Silvio Berlusconi and the rise of the eurosceptic Five Star Movement

Italians vote on 4 March
Italians vote on 4 March

Italians will choose their government on 4 March in an election that has no clear winner in sight and could plunge the EU into renewed crisis.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella dissolved both houses of parliament on Thursday evening, with Cabinet setting the election date soon after.

The latest polls put comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement slightly ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party, with a rejuvenated centre-right coalition piloted remotely by the disgraced Silvio Berlusconi occupying third place.

Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud in 2013 and lost his senate seat. He is barred from running for office but is contesting the court's decision at the European Court of Human Rights.

Italy has experienced sluggish growth and the EU will be following closely events in the country, which represents the bloc's fourth largest economy. The outcome of the vote could create renewed instability in the eurozone if there is no clear winner.

Moreso, the Five Star Movement has at times threatened to replace the euro with another currency, while the centre-right coalition that includes the hardline Northern League, is playing the tough card on immigration.

Gentiloni's government failed to pass through unpopular legislation that would have granted citizenship to the children of migrants who have been residing at length in Italy.

Italy has borne the brunt of migrant arrivals from Libya, arriving on rickety boats. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says almost 120,000 migrants arrived in Italy by boat in 2017, while more than 3,000 perished at sea.

Malta was sparred an influx of migrant arrivals over the past four years with Italy taking in all those rescued in the central Mediterranean, in what has often been described as an informal arrangement between both countries as a result of the good relationship between Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his previous counterparts Enrico Letta and Matteo Renzi. This, however, may change after the election.

Former Italian premier Matteo Renzi addressed a Labour mass meeting, endorsing his
Former Italian premier Matteo Renzi addressed a Labour mass meeting, endorsing his "friend" Joseph Muscat (Photo: Chris Mangion/MediaToday)

Renzi, a personal friend of Muscat, who also addressed a Labour Party mass meeting in the last election campaign, will be leading the Democratic Party.

The dissolution of parliament ends a five-year legislature that saw three centre-left prime ministers, leading a shaky coalition with a centre-right formation that split from Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. Outgoing Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni succeeded Matteo Renzi a year ago, who resigned after pegging his political future to a referendum on electoral reform, which he lost. Renzi had himself succeeded Enrico Letta in February 2014.


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