Prime Minister-designate Mario Draghi will wrap up his consultations with political parties on 6 February, when he meets delegations from the Lega and the Five Star Movement (M5S), and then decide whether he has enough backing to form what would be Italy’s 67th government since World War II. Since Draghi’s round of talks started yesterday, there has been a discernible softening of the positions initially taken by various parties, including the M5S and the Lega, giving the impression that they are keen to jump onto Draghi’s bus. In short, the question has somewhat shifted from “if” Draghi could form a government to “how” this government will be constituted, meaning which parties will be part of the coalition.
Seeking to camouflage their U-turns, the leadership of the M5S and Lega have been busy trying to set some “boundaries” and “conditions” for a possible Draghi government, thinking they can handle Draghi as they controlled Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. This bravado reflects their lack of understanding of the paradigm change that has materialized with Draghi’s arrival on the political scene. The reality is that irrespective of their final decisions on whether to back Draghi, both parties will find themselves in a tight spot that could trigger intra-party turmoil, loss of popularity and, at worst, defections.
The unity of the Lega-led right-wing alliance has already imploded. Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has expressed its support for a Draghi government, while the far-right Fratelli d’Italia will vote against it. As for the Lega itself, the party is struggling to take a stance. Within Matteo Salvini’s party, there is a significant Eurosceptic wing that would struggle to swallow the idea of supporting the former president of the European Central Bank (ECB). However, a more pragmatic group within the party, which enjoys widespread support among business owners in the exporting North, favors Draghi and looks at this move as an opportunity to recast the Lega as a mainstream center-right party.
For the M5S, the situation is possibly worse as deep splits are already emerging. Under pressure, the leadership has been forced to shift its stance from an initial outright “No” to Draghi to a more constructive “let’s meet (Draghi), listen and then decide.” As done in the past to justify significant departures from its origins, the M5S could opt to consult on its stance with its members via a vote on its Rousseau online platform – a farcical exercise of “direct democracy” that is directed by the party’s top echelons.
As for Draghi, he seems set to secure enough support to form a new administration. As part of his initial calculations on how to manage the quicksand of Italian politics, he will have to decide whether to form a cabinet that is a mix of experts and political figures, rather than just appointing technocrat ministers.