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The latest electoral contest in Sicily has been widely considered in Italy as a resounding defeat for the Democratic Party, a success for the centre-right forces and, after all, a good result for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which, anyway, did not succeed in winning its first regional election. If we look at some numbers and details, however, we might get a more nuanced picture
Sicily has been for almost two decades a centre-right stronghold (at the 2001 general election, 61 constituencies out of 61 were won by the coalition supporting Silvio Berlusconi). Local government is granted a number of special powers. Moreover, a multitude of local lists and regional parties make the political landscape quite fluid and peculiar on the island. In 2012, the surge of Grillo’s party and the internal division of the centre-right (split into two different coalitions, while the Union of the Centre, a Christian-democrat party normally loyal to the centre-right and electorally strong in Sicily, changed side) led to the victory of Rosario Crocetta, the candidate of the Democratic Party-led coalition. which, however, was unable to win a majority of seats at the Sicilian Regional Assembly.
Last week, instead, the centre-right was nearly in lockstep behind one candidate. Only Alleanza Popolare, a party that was born out of a scission within Berlusconi’s party and that supports the national government, did not join the coalition. Despite the M5s’ electoral gains (34.65% of votes for its presidential candidate, while his party won only 26.67% of votes), the centre-right has been able to win the presidency and a majority at the regional legislative body, but this should be no surprise since its current lists collected altogether about 50% of votes in 2012 – actually, centrists, conservatives, autonomists and Berlusconi’s party lost some electoral support this time, but run united, unlike 5 years ago. The Democratic Party itself won only 7,000 fewer votes than 5 years ago and showed, after all, a stable electoral performance, but lost the crucial support of some centrist lists, without attracting leftist voters, suffering, besides, for being perceived as a third force in this electoral competition. Along with two other factors, this outcome may induce some considerations.
The first factor is the recently and swiftly approved electoral law, which, among the other things, introduces some incentives to pre-electoral coalitions and political pacts.
The second factor is that on many recent occasions (1994, 1996, 2001, 2006) the main element deciding elections’ results has not been, as expected, voters switching sides, but the ability to build pre-electoral coalitions as large as possible (when both the centre-right and the centre-left succeeded in including all the potential allies, in 2006, the two blocs essential tied, with a difference of 0.06% of votes in favour of the centre-left). The latest general election has been a substantial exception, with 3 or 4 big blocs taking part in the electoral competition and Grillo’s party unexpected achievements in the polling booths.
The Five Star Movement inability and unwillingness to create alliances and the centre-right newfound unity make more likely for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (first rule of Italian politics: Silvio is not politically dead until he is not literally dead) and even for the Northern League in its nationalist/Le Pen-style version to come back to power in few months time. The Democratic Party needs no fiasco to find itself just as a potential junior partner of a larger conservative coalition (even if the anti-EU coalition scenario still exists). Both leftist parties (one of which recently founded by the PD’s former leader, Pierluigi Bersani, and by the former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, who distanced themselves from Matteo Renzi and his policies) and centrists find joining forces with the Democrats less appealing.
A grand coalition is still the most likely outcome of the next general election, but it is definitely not granted that the Democratic Party will be leading it.