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Italy's populists storm to centre stage in general elections

The election campaign was dominated by anti-immigration populism. [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 March, 2018

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Another boost for far-right and populist parties in Europe has been made, with right-wing parties achieving sweeping successes in Italy's general elections.

A surge for populist and far-right parties in Italy's general election left the country in political deadlock on Monday with a hung parliament likely after a campaign dominated by anti-immigration and populist rhetoric.

The election campaign was a gloomy one marred by clashes between far-right and anti-fascist activists, as well as a racist shooting spree by an extreme right sympathiser last month.

With the majority of ballots from Sunday's vote counted, the eurosceptic Lega Nord ("Northern League") led by Matteo Salvini was leading the dominant right-wing coalition with 37 percent of the vote.

Salvini, who has promised to shut down Roma camps, deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and tackle the "danger" of Islam. He said Monday that he had the "right and duty" to govern Italy. 

The League is closing in on 18 percent, overtaking the pre-election coalition leader and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia ("Go Italy") party, which has collapsed to 14 percent.

"Italians have chosen to take back control of the country from the insecurity and precariousness put in place by (centre-left Democratic Party leader Matteo) Renzi," Salvini told a press conference.

However, much depends on the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which has drawn support from Italians fed up with traditional parties and a lack of economic opportunity and finished second with 32 percent. 

"These are historic results," Giancarlo Giorgetti, deputy head of the League, told reporters in Milan.

Alessandro Di Battista of the Five Star Movement, said: "Everyone is going to have to come and speak to us".

Andrea Marcucci, one of the ravaged Democratic Party's (PD) lawmakers, said: "The populists have won and the Democratic Party has lost".

The boost for far-right and populist parties has drawn comparisons to UK's vote to leave the European Union and the rise of US President Donald Trump.

Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage congratulated the Five Star Movement, his allies in the European Parliament, "for topping the poll" as by far Italy's biggest single party.

The possible alliance between the League and Five Star will also delight former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who called that coalition "the ultimate dream".

Resentment at the hundreds of thousands of migrant arrivals in Italy in recent years fired up the campaign, along with frustration about social inequalities.

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