The Democratic Party government’s vote halved to 19 percent. The centre left party came to office in 2014 because voters rejected austerity, but it pursued cuts. And it opened the door to racism with clamp downs on migrants.
The populist Five Star Movement received 31.6 percent of votes. This puts it on course to becoming Italy’s largest party, but not big enough to form a government on its own. “We have destroyed all the parties who have dissolved in sickening diarrhoea,” said comedian and Five Star founder Beppe Grillo.
Five Star has a strong anti-establishment rhetoric, but has joined in the anti-migrant attacks. While promising workers representation on company boards and a minimum wage for young people, it has been forming itself into a mainstream right wing party.
It has had its fair share of corruption scandals.
Five Star prime ministerial candidate Luigi Di Maio has signalled he is open to coalitions mostly likely with the right.
The right wing bloc fronted by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi received 37.6 percent. The bloc includes his Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, the virulent anti-migrant League and the fascist Brothers of Italy.
Berlusconi cannot hold public office himself until next year because of a tax fraud conviction. And in another blow for him, Forza Italia looks set to have been outdone by its ally the League.
The League got 18 percent and Forza Italia 14 percent. The Brothers of Italy got 4.3 percent.
Berlusconi and the League’s leader Matteo Salvini spent the campaign competing over who would deport the most people.
Salvini has said that if he won a single vote more than Berlusconi, he must become prime minister. He will now try to make that a reality.
That the European Union (EU) and business presented Berlusconi as a restraining influence was an indication of the direction of Italian politics.
The campaign was marked by fascist rallies and the shooting of six African migrants by a Nazi who once stood as a candidate for the League.
Some 20,000 people came out to protest, but far right violence is on the rise.
Five Star and the League have both criticised Italy’s relationship with the EU, but neither campaigns to leave.
Opposition to EU-backed austerity has repeatedly created crises for the establishment. But racist scapegoating is enabling the right to capitalise.
Forces to the left of the outgoing government all did worse than the fascist Brothers of Italy.
While the right are on the front foot it is fractious and fragile. Even the formation of a government is not certain.
People have taken to the streets against racist attacks and the growth of the far right. There will need to be more such mobilisations and a larger left alternative to austerity.