This week, Italians will go to the polls in a decisive election for Europe. Amid a rise of populism across the continent, the Eurozone’s third largest economy could face political instability, with a three-horse race between the centre-left, centre-right and the populist Five Star Movement. In addition, it is widely expected that none of the three contenders will be able to form a government alone, following the introduction of a new voting system, described as ‘complicated’ even by the party that introduced it.
Here’s what you need to know about this important election.
What are Italians voting for?
On Sunday, voters will elect new members to the 630 seat Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament, as well as to the 315-seat Senate, the upper house.
Following a vote in parliament last October, a new electoral system is being used for these elections for the first time. 37% of seats in both the Chamber and Senate are single-member constituencies elected using first-past-the-post, with the other 63% being multi-member constituencies elected through proportional representation.
The new system makes it even harder for parties to win power, even with the support of their respective coalitions.
What happened in the last parliament?
After the last election in 2013, no major alliance was able to form a majority. As a result a grand coalition government was formed, led by the centre-left Democratic Party.
The coalition has been through three different prime minister in the space of five years; Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi and Paolo Gentioni.
Most recently, Renzi (Italy’s youngest Prime Minister) resigned after voters rejected constitutional reform in a referendum in 2016.
In addition, the parliament has faced difficulties from a migrant crisis, with thousands of migrants – particularly from Libya, Syria and Iraq – have tried to flee to Europe through Italy to escape crises at home.
Who are the main parties?
FORZA ITALIA (Centre-right)
Led by former Prime Minister Berlusconi (despite being barred from running for election due to a tax fraud conviction), Forza Italia is calling for the introduction of a ‘parallel currency’ for domestic use, abolishing inheritance tax and block new immigrants from entering Italy.
LEGA NORD (Radical right)
Lega Nord, led by Matteo Salvini, is calling for the abolition of the fiscal compact of the European Union (which imposes budget cuts on high-debt countries), repatriate 100,000 illegal immigrants a year and improve relations with Russia.
BROTHERS OF ITALY (Right/far-right)
Led by Giorgia Meloni, the policies of this successor to the Italian fascists are similar to that of Lega Nord, supporting strong Italian nationalism and conservatism.
FIVE-STAR MOVEMENT (anti-establishment)
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement proposes raising taxes on energy companies, repealing ‘useless’ laws with reforms to allow early retirement and make firing harder, and a minimum monthly income of €780.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY (centre-left)
Led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the Democratic Party propose increasing the minimum wage, negotiating to abolish the fiscal compact and increasing the deficit to 3% to boost investment.
FREE AND EQUAL (left)
The new party, formed from smaller groups that split from the Democratic Party, propose labour and pension reform and an increase in public spending.
What issues have dominated the election campaign?
Immigration has been a major point of debate in the election, made even more important following the shooting of six Africans by a far-right extremist in the central Italian town of Macerata earlier this month. Many of the right-wing parties have called for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, with Berlusconi promising to deport over half a million if he takes office.
The economy has also been an key theme, with a third of Italians under 25s out of work, particularly in the south of the country.
Who will win?
Polls suggest that Five Star Movement will be the largest party to the Italian Parliament, but will be short of a majority, with between 27-29% of the national vote. Berlusconi’s coalition of right-wing parties is polling close to 40%, which could see them form a government. Meanwhile, Renzi’s coalition of left-wing parties would only muster roughly 26-28%.
The tight race means it is all but impossible to predict who will end up governing Italy after Sunday’s election.