File photo of an Italian voter casting his ballot in a previous vote: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Italy’s election will take place on March 4th — that much is certain. But with a new and untested electoral system, deep rifts in the ruling Democratic Party, and a possible comeback on the cards for one Silvio Berlusconi, anything could happen.
In this unstable political environment, politicians across the spectrum have been extravagant in their promises to voters, keen to win favour after low voter turnout in the most recent regional elections.
In his New Year’s address, President Sergio Mattarella urged parties to put forward proposals that were “adequate, concrete, and realistic”, and later in January criticized politicans for making “irresponsible” promises.
This year’s election will take place using a never before tested electoral law which favours cross-party alliances, and this has some interesting implications. For the first time, more than a third of seats will be awarded through a first-past-the-post system, encouraging parties to build up strong bases of support in certain areas.
And because the next government will almost certainly be a coalition, parties may be inclined to promise voters what they want in the run-up to the election, knowing they can blame their eventual coalition partners if they can’t follow through on these pledges.
A recent poll by Index Research showed that almost 80 percent of Italians believed none of the election policies made would become reality. Across social media, the pledges have been parodied under the hashtag ‘#AboliamoQualcosa’ or ‘let’s abolish something’ in which Twitter and Facebook users have called for everything from socks with sandals to vegan bolognese to be scrapped.
We’re keeping track of the major election promises made by each party so far.
Matteo Renzi, pictured giving a speech after handing in his resignation in December 2016. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
Scrap TV licence fee: Party secretary Matteo Renzi has said he plans to get rid of the tax used to fund state TV network Rai.
Minimum wage: Renzi also wants to increase the minimum wage of salaried employees to €9-10 per hour, a measure which would affect around 15 percent of the Italian workforce (others are covered by sector-specific collective agreements). The party would also continue its focus on incentivizing businesses to offer permanent contracts and reducing unemployment.
Other than that, the party has so far kept relatively quiet about its plans. Walter Veltroni, the party’s first leader and former mayor of Rome (whose duties included officiating the wedding of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin) has said the party hopes to present itself as a contrast to the “hatred and promises” of its rivals and show itself to be a “serious force”.
READ ALSO: Understanding Italy’s Democratic Party
Five Star Movement
Recently elected leader of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
Repeal 400 laws in first year of power: Long having described itself as Italy’s anti-establishment party, the M5S’s first move will be to get rid of hundreds of the laws introduced by previous administrations. Writing on his predecessor Beppe Grillo’s blog, party leader Luigi Di Maio said: “The Five Star Movement will abolish, in the shortest time possible, 400 useless laws.” This, he said, would create a fairer and less complex tax system and cut down on bureaucracy, allowing businesses to grow more easily and to reduce tax evasion. Di Maio has even set up on online portal where voters can nominate the laws they’d like to see scrapped.
Scrap compulsory vaccinations: In May last year, the Democratic Party made 12 vaccinations compulsory for school starters across the country, including those against measles and meningitis, with a fine for any parents to break the law. This followed a threefold rise in measles cases in Italy in one year, which was linked to a growing number of parents refusing the vaccines despite scientific evidence of their efficacy. Speaking on Rai radio in January, Di Maio said the party would “change” this law, and that the M5S wanted to remove the obligation for parents to vaccinate their children.
Euro: The Five Star Movement’s official programme, presented on January 21st, included a pledge to keep the euro. This is a turnaround as the party has always been highly critical of the single currency and for years called for a referendum on it, though in recent months leader Luigi Di Maio said this would be a “last resort”.
Citizens’ pension: The programme also calls for a universal pension to be paid to all Italians over retirement age, regardless of how much they have paid into the system. This would start at €780 per month.
Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
A flat tax: Speaking on Italian TV, former PM and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pledged that his party would introduce a flat tax, and has described this as a “fundamental point” of his programme. This would start at 23 percent, which is currently the minimum rate in a progressive tax system that rises to 43 percent, but Berlusconi said he hopes to reduce this rate if tax revenue rises.
EU: The Italian constitution would trump EU legislation, under the plan put forward by Berlusconi and his coalition partners the Northern League and Brothers of Italy. However, Berlusconi has also said that Italy will keep the euro as a currency.
Scrap taxes on cars, primary homes, businesses, and inheritance: Berlusconi also called for these taxes to be abolished.
Higher minimum pensions: Forza Italia would hike minimum pensions to €1,000 per month, double the current amount. Other pledges aimed at gaining the elderly vote include free dental and eye care for Italy’s older generation.
Tax breaks for pet owners: Berlusconi has recently reinvented himself as an animal rights campaigner; last Easter, he was filmed cuddling lambs saved from slaughter for the traditional holiday meal, and he’s spoken about the “happy family” of dogs, horses and sheep at his Milan villa. The billionaire has called for a stop to VAT on pet food and free vet visits to make life easier for Italy’s many pet-owners.
Northern League leader Matteo Salvini. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP
Reopen Italy’s brothels and tax them: Speaking on January 15th, party leader Matteo Salvini repeated an earlier vow to reopen Italy’s brothels, which were criminalized 60 years ago, and said he was “increasingly convinced” of the merits of such a measure. The Northern League has several times proposed legislation to legalize prostitution, but these laws have never been passed. Italy’s GDP sees a significant rise if revenue from illegal activities included prostitution are included, and Salvini’s argument is that taxing prostitution would boost the Italian economy. In fact, a proposal for the creation of red light districts in Italian cities was in 2016 supported by senators from the Democratic Party, Forza Italia, and the Five Star Movement.
A flat tax: A flat tax has been part of the Northern League’s platform for years, and the party claims it would set the rate at just 15 percent. According to party head Matteo Salvini, any loss in tax revenue by lowering the rate would be offset by a reduction in tax evasion.
Scrap compulsory vaccinations: Like the M5S, the Northern League plans to revert Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin’s law making several vaccinations compulsory for children starting at a state school, Salvini said in an early January interview.
Scrap tax on e-cigarettes: In the same interview in which he proposed cancelling Lorenzin’s vaccine law, Salvini said the Northern League planned to cancel Italy’s tax on electronic cigarettes, labelling the tax “absurd”.
Euro: The Northern League is part of Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, and the Forza Italia leader said Salvini had “changed his position” on the euro, which he has long called for Italy to leave. However, The League’s economics spokesman, Claudio Borghi, promptly disagreed, telling Italian television that “one second after the League is in government it will begin all possible preparations to arrive at our monetary sovereignty. It’s a question of national security.”
The minor parties
Italy is home to plenty of small parties who could find themselves in the role of kingmaker if none of the major parties receives an outright majority — an outlook that seems extremely likely. Here are their pledges (we’ll be updating this article as more emerge).
This group was formed in December, made up of anti-Renzi leftwing splinter groups which left the Democratic Party. Pietro Grasso, the party’s leader, has proposed the abolition of public university tuition fees, scrapping Renzi’s Jobs Act (which made it easier for companies to hire and fire employees), and reducing the gender wage gap.