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Italy's Second Political Earthquake
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September 21, 2017
Inroads Journal

(Word Count: 2,200)

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

While many observers were shocked if not horrified by the election of Donald Trump, Italians were feeling a sense of déjà vu at what they saw happening across the pond. Pundits have tended to disregard developments in Italian politics in the last two decades, seeing the Italian experience as the product of idiosyncrasies of a rather peculiar country. However, time has shown that Italy’s flaws were not particularly idiosyncratic, as liberal democracy has come to face severe challenges in many Western countries. A trip through the past two decades of Italian political history could thus be most revealing as to what we may expect in other democracies that today are under stress.

During this period Italy experienced two major anti-elite uprisings. In both the 1994 and 2013 elections more people changed their votes than at any other time in Italian history. These two electoral earthquakes resulted from deep and widespread popular dissatisfaction with the political system and mainstream political actors. Both elections saw the sudden success of new political parties which transformed Italian politics. In 1994 the newly established Forza Italia, the party of the tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, won 21 per cent of the vote; in 2013 a quarter of Italian voters chose the Five Star Movement led by the former comedian Beppe Grillo, a record gain in Italian politics (table 1).


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