Italy’s League calls for elections, saying coalition with Five Star Movement is no longer viable
Posted On July 3, 2020
Italy was in political crisis on Thursday after the League party said its coalition with the Five Star Movement was irredeemably broken and new elections were the only option.
The fractious partners have been battling each other over a broad range of issues ever since they came to power last year, but the situation reached tipping point with a clash over a high-speed train line between Italy and France.
In parliament on Wednesday, the League voted against a motion put forward by Five Star to scrap the multi-billion-euro project, which would link Turin to Lyons with a tunnel under the Alps.
Emboldened by the win, and by the passing of a controversial security decree earlier this week, Matteo Salvini of the League ratcheted up pressure on the demoralised Five Star Movement, pushing the coalition to breaking point.
If the government collapses, it would likely be replaced by a hard-Right, Eurosceptic coalition with Mr Salvini as prime minister.
“It’s useless to go on with delays, blocks and arguments on a daily basis,” the League said in a statement.
“Every day that passes is a day that is lost. For us, the only alternative to this government is to give the choice back to the Italians with new elections.”
The League said it disagreed with Five Star on a wide array of issues, from big infrastructure projects to reform of the justice system and tax cuts.
The vote on the high-speed rail link was “just the latest, clear, irreparable” sign of the sharp differences between the parties.
Five Star’s patience with Mr Salvini, who is head of the League and interior minister, is also wearing thin.
Luigi Di Maio, the party’s leader, said he was fed up with “power games” being played by the League.
He cancelled all his scheduled engagements on Thursday.
The League has by far the most to gain from fresh elections – its public support has more than doubled since last year from 17% to around 38%.
Its soaring popularity is not reflected in the make-up of parliament, where Five Star has more seats.
After riding a wave of optimism during the general election last year, Five Star is now polling just 17% – half what it won at the election.
If the League were to ally with other Right-wing parties such as Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the bloc would win more than 50% of the vote, polls suggest.
Amid growing tensions and with investors selling off Italian bonds, Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, met Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s president, in Rome to discuss the situation.
The League has not said when elections should be held.
If the government collapses in the next week or so, the earliest that elections could be held would be October.
Mr Salvini may yet be engaging in brinkmanship to squeeze political capital out of Five Star’s weakness, analysts said.
For all the sense of imminent coalition collapse, Mr Salvini could be playing a longer game.
“Salvini’s well-orchestrated ‘summer crisis’ is unlikely to lead to snap polls before year-end,” said Wolfgango Piccoli, an analyst at political risk consultancy Teneo.
“Salvini is aiming to secure a cabinet reshuffle that would tighten his grip on the cabinet.”
The League leader reportedly has a hit list of Five Star cabinet members that he wants to see sacked, including the defence, finance and transport ministers.
The dismissals, if they happen, would further entrench Mr Salvini, who has emerged as Italy’s most powerful politician and de facto prime minister.
“He has allegedly given prime minister Giuseppe Conte until Monday to decide on the cabinet reshuffle,” said Mr Piccoli.
Federico Santi, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said the coalition would “probably collapse” but that elections would most likely be held in early 2020.
“Elections will most likely lead to a League-led far-Right government, with equally Eurosceptic overtones compared to the current one and a similarly problematic economic policy agenda,” Mr Santi said.