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Italy Votes in Populist Leaders for Two Houses of Parliament

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PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/Getty Images

The victorious parties from Italy’s March 4 national elections began cutting up the political pie Saturday, voting in anti-establishment leaders for the two houses that make up the Italian parliament.

For the first time in its brief existence, the populist, Eurosceptic 5-Star Movement holds the leadership of the Chamber of Deputies, while the center-right coalition, which took the largest share of the votes in the national election, has taken charge of the Senate.

The Presidency of the Chamber of Deputies, roughly equivalent to the Speaker of the House in the United States legislature, went to Roberto Fico of the 5-Star Movement, while the new President of the Italian Senate is Maria Elisabetta Casellati, of the Forza Italia party.

The March 4 national election ended with no single party or bloc holding the necessary seats to build a government, and it remains to be seen whether or not the victors will be able to overcome differences to form a governing alliance.

While the center-right coalition took 34.8 percent of the vote, the 5-Star Movement wasn’t far behind at 34.1 percent, making it the single party with by far the most votes.

Within the center-right coalition, the League—led by Matteo Salvini—achieved an important upset victory over coalition partner Forza Italia.

“The center right is the coalition that won and that can govern,” 44-year-old Salvini said the day after the election, adding that “the League won inside the coalition and will be at the helm of the center-right.”

In recent days representatives of the two leading groups engaged in continuous behind-the-scenes talks, and negotiated to elect Roberto Fico and Elisabetta Casellati to their respective posts at the helm of the two houses of parliament.

“I am very happy, moved and proud that parliament has started to work and that the center-right has held together,” Matteo Salvini said after the voting Saturday.

The election of the presidents of the two houses of Parliament was the necessary first step toward possibly forming a government, and will be followed by a series of consultations under the leadership of Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

While together the 5-Star Movement and the center-right coalition have enough seats in parliament to form a government, their platforms differ on a number of essential items, not the least of which is how to put an end to Italy’s economic crisis.

While the 5-Star Movement has been tremendously popular in the south of Italy, in large part because of its promise to introduce a “Citizen’s Wage,” the League under Matteo Salvini has emphasized the need to lower both personal and corporate taxes and make Italy’s economic environment business-friendly.

Both groups have shown themselves to be flexible and willing to dialogue with the other, so a cooperative deal cannot be ruled out.

The platforms of the two parties have important areas of overlap, especially as regards emphasis on Italy’s sovereignty and the need for greater self-assertion in dealing with the European Union.

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