Written by Luca Lo Scavo, Msc International Relations and Diplomacy at Leiden University
What is “inciucio”, my German colleague asked in our lunch break in a casual conversation over the preliminary results after the General Elections in Italy on March the 4th. In my mind, inciucio is a very clear concept, almost a taken-for granted in Italian politics that has viral currency on online and offline media. One of those words which became redundant and whose meaning has never been seriously questioned. At least until now, and at least in Italy. My German colleague opened me a world.
Soon after the first projections on that chilly Sunday in early March, politicians crowned themselves online and to the journalists as “winners” and “losers”. The rhetoric went on for several days after the elections. In their mind, Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio were the “winners” of such competition. The former has led its party (Lega) from 4% to 18% and is now leading the centre-right coalition (37% overall), replacing Silvio Berlusconi’s role of leader and federator. The latter has reached the 33% of the votes leading the 5Star Movement. The “losers” are Matteo Renzi who sinked PD’s consensus to a mere 19% (still the second party after the 5Star Movement) and the extreme left who succeeded from the PD before the elections and gained 3% (just enough to be represented in the two Chambers).
Clearly, politicians play their own game, but you well understand that winners and losers are two labels that are at odds with reality. None of the two winners can govern autonomously and the second party, despite seriously reduced in size, represents 19% of the voters. And this has a lot to do with the electoral system, which before the elections was condemned as not representative enough and afterwards is considered not able to provide the country with a stable government and parliamentary majority. Such debate has deep roots, deeper than this article can properly tackle, but it is worth mentioning the extreme polarisation of the debate and the frequent changes of the electoral law which see a conflict between the legislative and judiciary powers in the country.
This leads me to the fantastic and original meaning of “inciucio”, literally meaning having an affaire with someone, cheating on your partner. Italians brought the language of love into politics, sadly attaching very derogatory meaning to it. In the current narrative, a (political) inciucio is an unnatural alliance between political parties. The centre-left with the centre-right did an inciucio in 2014 for example. Translated into the current events, centre-left and centre-right would do an inciucio, likewise the left with the 5Star Movement or the right with the 5Star Movement (Fig. 1). In other words, any combination possible would be an inciucio. Most of the electoral campaign was indeed centred on (not) making inciuci, with the very unpleasant consequence of freezing the parties in their positions and preventing democracy from doing its job: finding compromises and middle-grounds. In fact, any party called upon to make a government would break its electoral promises which were one of core principles of their campaign.
On the contrary, media have proposed all sorts of possible alliances which are arithmetically possible. Have a look yourself to Table 1 and have fun! To spare you time, I will analyse only the most bizarre ones. The so called big inciucio would have been between PD and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, but now the two parties are too weak. One option would be PD and 5Stars, but they have been telling each other off the whole campaign and their programmes look very far from each other. The other scenario would be Lega and 5Stars, but despite having some similarities on their programmes (and big differences too), one of the two “winners” (Matteo Salvini) would become the minority party in the inciucio. How does Lega reconcile with that?
*Average between Senate and Low Chamber
** The current electoral law (Rosatellum) entails uninominal colleges alongside with proportional representation. Uninominal colleges belong to the coalition, which makes any secession more difficult since those seats should be divided, but how?
If arithmetics poses clear limits to the manoeuvres of the parties in the Parliament, Italian creativity can overcome any imaginative scenario. A record high number of MPs changed party in the last legislative term (347, which is 36% of the MPs), making de facto anyone’s wildest dreams come true.
This is the realm of idealised Italian politics where democracy is expected to be a perfect representation of the people and provides a solid government, where parties with 33% or 37% of the votes can govern without the basic rule of democracy: compromise. Big issues await Italian and European politics in the next years, but we will go nowhere if we do not start calling things with their name.