As we discussed last week, the impending national elections in Italy are really heating up and most of the focus of debate (and the occasional outright brawl in the streets) is centered on questions of forced immigration. The clock is almost up now and national elections are scheduled for tomorrow. There’s been a rise in nationalist sentiments and a souring of the public mood toward the waves of migrants and refugees, particularly from Libya and Syria, who have been building up in the country.
Those feelings have been on particularly dramatic display in Sesto San Giovanni, just outside of Milan. The town undertook an unusual “celebration” ahead of the elections. They’ve been actively moving to relocate new immigrants out of the area, and after evicting their 200th migrant from the town, they baked a huge cake with the number 200 emblazoned in the frosting and invited everyone to stop by for a slice. (Washington Post)
SESTO SAN GIOVANNI, Italy — The leaders of this blue-collar town marked an anti-migrant milestone with a pistachio layer cake this week. To commemorate what they said was the 200th migrant expelled from their town, they wrote the number on top with green frosting.
As Italians vote in national elections Sunday, many of them share the migration-skeptic swagger of the right-wing leaders of Sesto San Giovanni. Italy is struggling to accommodate the more than 620,000 migrants who have arrived on its shores since 2013, and a new sentiment is gaining force: Boot them all out.
Ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose center-right coalition appears to have the best shot at victory Sunday, has promise to defuse what he called a “social bomb ready to explode in Italy” by deporting 600,000 people. His coalition partners, including a group descended from the remnants of the Fascist Party, are even more vociferous toward the migrants, most of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa.
This particular town has a history of leaning communist and/or fascist, depending on the era under discussion, so it was an obvious focus for criticism among those still supporting EU doctrines about resettling incoming migrants. Some of the smaller, right-wing parties who seem to be experiencing a lot of growth don’t do themselves any favors by emulating some of the ancient fascist symbology and language, but passions are clearly running high.
One of those parties which resides on the right but is considered a bit more centrist is the Northern League. Their leader, Matteo Salvini, had previously been more reserved in his language. But perhaps sensing an opportunity after agreeing to form a coalition with some of the other groups working to “kick them all out” he upped the temperature in some of his speeches heading into the final days. And he wasn’t shy about invoking the troubles they have with the Muslim faith of many of the new arrivals.
“Some people would prefer to pray on the Koran, a religion where women have fewer rights than men. Where they preach hate from mosques. I don’t want that,” said Northern League leader Matteo Salvini at his final rally in a residential area of Milan on Friday. “We need to defend our borders and our workers.”
Polling is often tough to follow in Italy’s complex political system, but none of the major parties currently look like they’ll come close to a majority. You can look over a current poll tracker here which tells the story, and whoever comes out on top will almost certainly have to forge an alliance of some sort. Heading into the final weekend, the populist Five Star Party is in the lead, but even they only manage to draw around 27% support. They’re also really not in the mix when it comes to the immigration question as they are focused almost entirely on eliminating corruption and modernizing the electoral process. Italy’s Democrats are currently in charge (and are supporters of expanded immigration), but they’ve completely tanked in the polls this past year and are now running at 22 percent. The more anti-immigration parties are the aforementioned Northern League, Forza Italia and the Brothers of Italy. They are picking up 14, 16 and five percent respectively. If they can bind together a coalition with final numbers in that range, they’ll still need significant help from somebody else to make it to a majority.
The polls open in Italy at seven o’clock tomorrow morning local time and close at 11:00 pm. (That means the polling places are open from one in the morning until five in the afternoon eastern standard time.) Given how they’ve operated in the past, the first exit polls won’t be released until immediately after the polls close and the final count isn’t projected to be available until Monday afternoon, local time. We’ll be sure to get an update for you when they’ve wrapped up, but the one thing everyone is counting on so far is that’s it’s going to be a mess. If nobody can piece together a functional majority coalition we may yet wind up with a totally unexpected new leader over there.