A few days ago, Rome elected it’s first female mayor, Virginia Raggi, and it only just registered in my brain today. Turin also elected Chiara Appendino, and both of these women are in the Movimento 5 Stelle (The Five Star Movement). I’m about to get into a brief history on recent Italian politics now, so be warned. If you could care less, go ahead and jump to the short AJ+ video at the end.
I have always had mixed feelings about the M5S. It is a populist, grassroots movement which started back in 2009, and led by popular comedian Beppe Grillo. Their platform is one that any Bernie Sanders supporter could appreciate: they are anti-establishment, want to fight political corruption, have a strong environmental platform, and put a lot of emphasis on democracy. So far, so good.
My mixed feelings come from the fact that they are a very mixed bag, and in fact I did not vote for them in the 2013 elections. In 2013, a vote for Beppe Grillo was a protest vote. In essence, the main platform of the M5S for those elections was a promise that they would form no coalition with any other party.
Basically, as in other kinds of elections, you need a majority to rule. In the Parliamentary system you have multiple parties, and so often no one party gets over 50% of the vote. Whichever party has the most votes can thus form a coalition with other parties which might have similar values and, if their combined votes are over 50%, that coalition rules for the next however many years.
By promising to form no coalitions, the M5S essentially promised to break the system if they got enough votes. They would prohibit whichever party got the most votes (and it was surely going to be between the center-right and the center-left) from being able to govern. The heads of the parties would have had to resign in shame, there would have to be an influx of new faces, new politicians, and all of the old corrupt faces would be gone. There would need to be brand new elections. This would bring a severe blow to the stability of Italy and to the Italian economy, but Beppe Grillo proposed that it would be a short-term price to pay for the long-term benefit of sending all the corrupt politicians home with their tails between their legs. When corruption is ingrained there is virtually no difference between right and left, he said, so there is no point in voting for the slightly lesser of two evils any more. No one expected for him to get many votes, as this seemed a very risky political move for the average Italian voter, who usually talks a big game and then goes for the safer route.
Then, the unthinkable happened. The vote was virtually a three-way tie between center-left (who got a tiny bit more than the others), center-right and M5S. The center-left begged M5S to reconsider their position, they did not. Bersani, the head of the center-left party resigned, they still didn’t budge.
Then, the center-left formed a coalition with the center-right. The two parties that are kind of never supposed to form coalitions. In essence they proved Beppe Grillo’s point, there is very little difference between the two any more. Still, his attempt to break the system was thwarted.
I did not vote for him simply because he did not convince me of his political savvy. He spoke a lot about how to break things, but not much on how to fix them. There is no guarantee that, after you break something, what you replace it with is going to be better. Some of his suggestions for rooting out corruption were also naive and misguided, for example, he proposed getting rid of publicly financing elections and moving towards an American model – and all of you American voters out there know well what a freaking disaster that model is. At least the kinds of corruption going on in Italy at the moment are still technically illegal.
However they gained many seats in Parliament in the 2013 elections, and the M5S has seen a huge influx of young, passionate people. While they do lack experience, many see that as something in their favor, as they are not fully entrenched in the corrupt political system. They are still a mixed bag: some are over zealous, some overly focus on issues which are not of prime importance at the moment, but others are smart and are able to bring fresh, out of the box ideas. I do not know where Virginia Raggi and Chiara Appendino fall on this scale, but I’m very curious to see how it turns out.
tl;dr here’s an AJ+ video