Will Italy’s warring politicians succeed in shutting Salvini out of power?

21 August 2019

6:24 AM

21 August 2019

6:24 AM

What now looks like a distinct possibility in Italy after today’s resignation of Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is a reminder of a golden rule of modern politics: the liberal left will sleep with any enemy however repulsive to stop right-wing populism.

Matteo Salvini, who is by far Italy’s most popular politician, perhaps forgot this rule when he pulled the plug on the coalition government of his radical-right League party and the alt-left Five Star Movement by tabling a no-confidence vote in Giuseppe Conte, which prompted his resignation.

Either that or he just could not face another day in a coalition government which was unable to agree anything and which was damaging and not helping Italy.

Whatever. The deputy prime minister and interior minister, who loves to brandish a rosary while speaking to the public, must be praying that he has not shot himself and the country in the foot. He became convinced that if he took the initiative it would mean a snap election in October, which, given his popularity in the polls, he would surely win.

However, he swiftly lost the initiative (as I suggested might well happen in my piece in the magazine this week) when it became clear that the ex-communist, nowadays liberal-left, Democratic party was prepared to contemplate forming a new coalition government with its sworn enemy Five Star.

In the polls, the League is way ahead of any other party on 38 per cent and could possibly win a general election on its own, which is unheard of in Italy (a party or coalition requires 40 per cent of the vote to get a majority of seats) – and would definitely win in coalition with former allies Fratelli d’Italia (six per cent) or Forza Italia (eight per cent). Five Star is polling a pathetic 15 per cent.

But at the last general election in March 2018, Five Star got 34 per cent of the vote compared to the League’s 17 per cent and has far more seats than the League. Even the Democratic party, which won 18 per cent of the vote, has more.

So together – however much they hate each other – Five Star and the Democratic party – or part of it – could form a government with someone like the out-going president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi brought in as prime minister. Such a government would shut Salvini out of power.

Conte, a lawyer, is not an elected politician but was made premier as a compromise candidate after being proposed by Five Star to head the coalition when it was formed after the March 2018 election. He resigned before the no-confidence vote could take place and in his resignation speech accused Salvini of thinking of himself and not the country.

But it has been clear for months that the Five Star-League coalition government, which was the first populist government in a major European country, is unable to agree on virtually anything and thus is just plain bad for the country.

Virtually the only thing it has achieved is Salvini’s hugely popular crack-down on the flow across the Mediterranean of illegal migrants masquerading as refugees from Libya to Italy.

In the recent past, Five Star and the Democratic party have exchanged the wildest of insults. For example Beppe Grillo, the ex-comedian who founded Five Star, refers to Matteo Renzi, former leader of the Democratic party and prime minister, as “The Little Moron of Florence”. Insults thrown back and forth of late between the leading politicians of both parties include: lava, transvestite, wounded sow, psycho-dwarf, zombie, corpse, cancer-causer, and container full of liquid shit.

And yet here they are, thinking of tying the knot, in order to avoid the Italian people having its say at the polls and to stop the shared enemy Salvini. It kind of reminds me of so many British parliamentarians and their riding rough-shod over the will of the people in regard to Brexit.

It will be up to president Sergio Mattarella – who is officially neutral – to decide if a new government can be cobbled together from the existing parliament  – and if not to call new elections. Let us pray.

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