Five Star Movement leaders Luigi Di Maio (L) and Alessandro Di Battista. Photo: Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
Five Star Movement leaders Luigi Di Maio (L) and Alessandro Di Battista. Photo: Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Italy’s national election held on Sunday was a resounding victory for the country’s euro-skeptic Five Star Movement, which emerged as the largest party, garnering a third of the vote.

While the populist party’s share of the vote is not enough to form a government on its own, its 31-year-old leader, Luigi Di Maio, has reportedly said he is now open to forming an alliance. The reversal from Five Star’s insistence that it will go it alone came as Di Maio said Monday that the party now had “a responsibility to govern Italy.”

Sunday’s vote was a stinging rebuke to all establishment parties, with the ruling center-left coalition led by Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party finishing in a distant third place. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right party was outshined by its far-right ally Lega (League), which won the second most votes for a single party.

Most analysts took comfort ahead of the election that a center-right coalition would prove an insurmountable bulwark against the Five Star Movement’s ability to form a ruling coalition, which might eventually threaten to pull Italy out of the euro area. But Five Star’s strong results, coupled with the center-right’s worse-than-expected performance, have given the anti-EU party momentum to push to form a ruling alliance.

For the moment, Lega says it will stick with a center-right bloc, which is projected to win the most seats in the lower house of parliament but will still be shy of a ruling majority. Some point out, however, that an alliance between the anti-immigrant Lega and Five Star – the worst-case scenario for the European Union – is still possible.

Regardless of the outcome, Italy is now facing weeks of uncertainty as parties negotiate to form a ruling government. The situation bears some resemblance to that which is unfolding in Germany, also as a result of an upsurge in support for right-wing, anti-immigration candidates. But unlike Germany, Italy can ill afford policy uncertainty as it continues to battle significant economic woes.