Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini the new forces in Italian politics.
Although counting is still underway it is now clear that the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) and the Lega are the two main winners of Italy's general elections. M5S has over 30 per cent of the vote and the Lega, with around 18 per cent, has comfortably overtaken its running partner Forza Italia led by Silvio Berlusconi with around 14 per cent.
On the centre left the Partito Democratico (PD), led by Matteo Renzi, has put in a dismal performance winning under 20 per cent of the vote, doing worse than expected, with its small allies not adding up to enough to give the left much more than about 24 per cent.
Although percentages are being slow to turn into seats in parliament, thanks to the complications of the majority and proportional voting system, no potential coalition on centre right or centre left has enough to form a government. However as one important member of the M5S, Alessandro Di Battista, put it soon after the polls closed, “Everyone will have to talk to us.”
Before the elections M5S indicated it would be prepared to govern on its own with outside support. But although it is the largest party this will be difficult. Would it look to the parties on the centre right, which have won the largest percentage of votes, or to the left for support? And which parties will be prepared to back the movement that has won its laurels as an anti-establishment force?
Both Berlusconi and Renzi, who thought they would have a decisive say in the formation of the next government, have had their bargaining positions severely reduced although they may still have a power of boycott over any new government. The centre-right parties, until now led by Berlusconi, have very different policies on Europe, the economy and immigration, therefore a government programme will be hard to patch together. And although Renzi has had a bad personal defeat the PD still remains the second largest party, even if only a few percentage points ahead of Salvini's Lega.
Two trends have emerged from the elections. The first is that the traditional parties and leaders are not popular. The second is that the south of the country has had a decisive say in the outcome of the voting. Both the M5S and the Lega, which removed “Nord” from its name to prove that it had moved out of its homeland in the north of Italy, pushed hard in the south. This was not difficult for Di Maio, whose family comes from Naples, and the M5S has swept the south, getting about 40 per cent of the vote. For the Lega, which is still thought of as a northern party, this was a risk. However its strategy seems to have paid off and although it has not turned in the same results as in the north it has shown that it now has a national base.