Matteo Salvini’s Big Game: Early Election and Full Powers

Matteo Salvini’s Big Game: Early Election and Full Powers

How the League Leader is Gambling with the Future of the Country

08/2019  | Reading time: 11 minutes

Salvini’s decision urged prime minister Giuseppe Conte to officially trigger a process that could lead to snap elections as early as October. Three are the possible dates: 13, 20, or 27 October. In fact, if the crisis should occur in mid-August, the polling stations, considering the time needed for Italians living abroad, could only be opened about two months later.

Here we are—as scripted—at the final act of the Greek tragedy called the Italian government. As expected, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, galvanised by recent polls, took the initiative and decided that the time was ripe for pulling the plug on Italy’s coalition cabinet. The news arrived in the evening from the seaside town of Pescara, in Abruzzo, the southern Italian region where, in February, the League obtained a landslide victory over the “allied-rivals” of the 5Stars Movement, making Salvini realise that his narrative could have bore its fruits not only south of the Po river but also south of the Tiber and catapult his party to the top of the poll at the national level. In a statement to the press, at the end of his stage—as Salvini is holding a summer rally in some of the most popular Italian beaches—the leader of the League asked his voters for “full powers” and announced: “I am happy about all that we have achieved together with the 5Stars, I am happy about all I have managed to do for Italy and for Italians, but in these conditions, it is useless to go on, with Nos, delays, blockings and daily fights … so if there is a crisis, the only alternative to this government is to give the word back to Italians by means of new elections.”

Salvini takes a selfie with his supporters during his Italian beach tour
Source: Twitter

Salvini’s decision urged prime minister Giuseppe Conte to officially trigger a process that could lead to snap elections as early as October. Three are the possible dates: 13, 20, or 27 October. In fact, if the crisis should occur in mid-August, the polling stations, considering the time needed for Italians living abroad, could only be opened about two months later. That such a rupture had been in the air was already clear last Wednesday, when the League voted to reject a motion presented by the 5Star Movement to block a high-speed link between Turin and Lyon, the so famous TAV (Treno ad Alta Velocitá, High Speed Train). The movement led by Luigi Di Maio has always been a strong opponent of this crucial infrastructure, and, despite Conte’s suggestion that blocking the works at this point would be more expensive for Italy than finishing it, it decided to ask the suspension of the TAV in the parliament. The 5Star’s’ move almost backfired and offered Salvini—who was also reinforced on this vote by the main opposition parties—the perfect occasion to spark off a major government crisis. The first move by the Carroccio’s leader was to call for a rimpasto, or a government reshuffle, and propose a new executive led again by Conte,  whereby League representatives would have taken over the most important ministries, beginning, of course, with the Ministry of Infrastructure. This option was soon dropped due to a resistance from 5Star and also because Salvini recognised that the timing was perfect for pushing his candidation as a prime minister and monopolise the results of the last May European election. On Thursday afternoon, Conte met Mattarella to discuss the situation of his executive, but, on that occasion, the Prime Minister did not hand in his resignation or suggest a government reshuffle. In fact, it was only in the late afternoon that Salvini made his statement calling for a snap election taking everybody—more or less—by surprise. On Friday, the League leader took another step toward speeding upthe fall of the Italian government, calling for a no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister.


Matteo Salvini visiting the construction site of the TAV
Source: Shutterstock

The ball now is in Conte’s  court, who could show up in the Camera (the Italian Lower Chamber) for a confidence vote already next week. Quite surprised by the Deputy Prime Minister’s move, Conte said: “I told Salvini his move would jeopardise important reforms my government had initiated.” In case of a motion of no-confidence, Conte should present his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, who will start an exploratory consultation in order to decide whether an election should take place immediately, whether there is a working majority, or whether he should install a caretaker government to pass the 2020 budget in the fall. Anyway, none of these scenarios will assure Salvini of a major role in the next government, and the Capitano—how the League leaderis often dubbed—could even pay the price at the polls for bringing the country into political chaos. Moreover, Salvini’s leadership might result very vulnerable given the ongoing investigation over illegal funds the League received from Russian oil money. There is still no evidence that the deal went through or that the leader of the League knew of the business, but prosecutors in Milan are looking into the matter and adversaries will be surely eager to use these uncertainties and Salvini’s admiration for Vladimir Putin as a political weapon.

Salvini is showing overconfidence and he is sure he will get the 50% of the votes. However, if the election would take place today, the League will probably result  the first party but only with  37% share. This will put the League in need of allies  in order to obtain the majority required to form a government, and, in this sense, the 7% predicted for Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the 6.4% predicted for far-right Fratelli d’Italia would represent precious assets. Despite Salvini’s cold stance towards a new centre-right coalition, fearing Berlusconi’s upper hand, the Deputy Prime Minister did not officially close the door on this option. This is why Salvini’s decision looks a bit strange. Nowadays, the League leader is unofficially in charge of the Italian government without having to always take the responsibility and in the enviable condition of blaming the amorphous and insubstantial 5Stars for all his shortcomings. The decision to form a government with Salvini inevitably harmed the image of Di Maio and the 5Stars which are going through a deep identity crisis with their share well below 20%, which means an even lower support than that of the centre-left Democratic Party, which, already on 26 May, turned to be the second force of the country with its 21-22%. PD’s secretary, Nicola Zingaretti, showed confidence saying that his party is ready for an early vote, but it is still unclear who will be the candidate for the role of prime minister and whether the party will look for a broader coalition with other leftist forces.


Salvini’s no-confidence motion forced MPs to return from holydays and to reopen the Parliament
Source: Shutterstock

Anyway, the results of the election could look slightly different if the 5Stars-proposed constitutional reform reducing the Parliament by 345 MPs were eventually introduced. The debate on the reform has been arranged for 9 September, but the special reopening of the Assembly in August represents a good occasion for Di Maio to bring the matter up in the House. Shall the government fall already in August, the proposal will decay. But if the bill is approved before this outcome, it will first of all be necessary to wait for the technical time to call a referendum—constitutional reforms in Italy might need a not obligatory confirmative vote—and so a snap election will be postponed until next spring. That would open up very interesting scenarios. In fact, under the current electoral law, which uses a mixed system, Salvini would probably become the big winner, but, with the reduction of the MPs, this arrangement would be questioned and lawmakers could decide to adopt a pure proportional system which could give unexpected results.

In the meantime, Brussels views with alarm the situation in the third biggest Eurozone economy, where the spread of the 10-year government bond over its German counterpart reached 235 points, the highest level since June. Italy has still failed to appoint a candidate for the new European Commission, and, at the end of September, Rome is expected to present its manovra (budget proposal) which should be approved at the end of the year. It is clear now that Italy is driving dangerously towards international insignificance and economic collapse. The appointment of a League representative as a significant Commissioner (for Competition for example) now seems a dream burst like a bubble, and the political inoperability—which is a standing characteristic of the yellow—green government—will condemn Italy to play the role of the spectator in a fast-changing Europe. Italy is likely to face days of uncertainty about how things will work out and its destiny is in the hand of  a grotesque selfie-maniac, who is permanently exposing his unattractive body on the beach, sipping mojitos and DJing while half-naked dancers dance awkwardly on the tunes of the Italian national anthem. But, basically, it is the height ofof the long Italian summer, beaches are full of tourists, and problems can wait until the holyday ends in September.

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