Half of Italians want 'strongman' in power, survey shows

By Angelo Amante
FILE PHOTO: An Italian flag waves behind a statue near Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) - Almost half of Italians are in favor of having a "strongman" in power who does not care about parliament and elections, a survey showed on Friday, casting doubts on the strength of democracy in a major European nation.

Some 48.2% of people think the government should be led by a Messiah-like leader who does not have to worry about being accountable, the survey by Censis research institute said.

The percentage is higher among poorer and less educated segments of the population, the survey showed, reaching a peak of 67% among respondents it described as working class.

Distrust of politics in Italy has grown in recent years, with far-right parties surging in opinion polls as a chronically stagnant economy has failed to recover ground lost during the global financial crisis.

Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy during the 1920s and 30s, still has support among some hard-right groups, while fascist memorabilia referring to him is still sold freely in some shops and markets.

"I ask Italians to give me full powers to do what we promised to do," far-right League leader Matteo Salvini said in August when he pulled his party out of the ruling coalition in a failed bid to trigger an early election.

The League's former ally, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, then formed a government with the center-left Democratic Party, forcing Salvini to go into opposition.

Italy has a long tradition of political instability. Since the end of fascism its governments have lasted just over a year on average and bickering is already frequent in the new, three-month-old coalition.

Polls show the League is Italy's most popular party, with around 33% of voter support and its hard-right ally Brothers of Italy is on 10%, which means they have a good chance of winning power in the event of a snap election.

Italy's economy, the third largest in the euro zone, looks set to remain weak in the near term, the national statistics bureau ISTAT said on Friday.

The main drag on Italian economic growth is uncertainty over the future, an ISTAT official said last week, as suggested by a steep reduction in inventories which is likely to subtract 0.8 points from economic growth this year.

The Censis survey showed that for 69% of Italians "uncertainty" was the dominant sensation they had over the future. Just 13.8% said they were optimistic and 17.2% said they were pessimistic.


(Additional reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Gareth Jones)