With most governments since the second world war lasting scarcely more than a year, Italy can be described as the Mexican soap opera of European democracies.
The election today marks the debut of a new electoral system in which around 37% of seats will be allocated under a British style first past the post system, the remainder being allocated under a proportional system.
Despite this, for a number of reasons, it looks as though stability may remain illusive. For starters, the country is unique in that a government must maintain a majority in both houses of Parliament.
This election presents the standard plethora of parties loosely arranged into blocks that may or may not be able to form a government.
The outgoing left-wing government seems unlikely to be re-elected despite having provided relative stability and Prime Minister Paolo Gentoloni’s relative popularity.
The single party that is likely to come out with the largest amount of support will, according to polls, almost certainly be Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement), founded by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009. Despite often being characterised as populist, the party has also embraced environmentalism amongst other issues.
The party began life with a eurosceptic slant but has since abandoned plans for a referendum on the euro and now says the “European Union is the Five Star Movement’s home” .
Their leader, 31 year old Luigi Di Maio, is described as a pragmatist- despite this the party rules out the idea of going into coalition or joining or forming an electoral block.
Of course, it just wouldn’t be an Italian election without a contribution from the bauld Silvio Berlusconi and despite being barred from holding office for six years in 2013, the former Prime Minister is dominating the campaign.
His centre right block has designated incumbent European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani to be the candidate for premier- presumably until Silvio can take office again next year.
There has been at least as much focus on government formation as there has been on actual policy during this campaign- perhaps lamentable in a country with the second highest level of public debt in the Eurozone.
The 5 star movements refusal to consider a coalition has led to speculation of a grand coalition between the left and right wing blocks. As this is Italy, this would be more like a coalition of coalitions and this will be far from straight forward.
It’s quiet likely, for instance that the right wing, euroscpetic “Lega” party will not wish to serve with the left wing block’s “More Europe” faction. Expect to see a few of the more extreme parties on either side pass up the opportunity for power in this scenario.
A less likely outcome is that the 5 star movement may be convinced to consider a confidence and supply agreement to get either of the two established blocks over the line.
Such a decision would require a vote of the full membership of the movement and how appealing their 135,000 partisans consider the idea of becoming Fianna Fail a la carbonara is unclear.
Given Italy’s aforementioned electoral history, the clearest prediction one can make is another election following this one before too long.
Shane Heneghan is a Brussels-based election and poll watcher. Follow Shane on Twitter: @shaneheneghan