Matteo Salvini’s fall from power could turn out to be only temporary, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica
A year and a half after its last election in March 2018, Italy finds itself with a brand new government, but without having held a fresh vote.
The outgoing government was composed of the right wing Lega led by Matteo Salvini and the ‘anti-establishment’ Five-Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio.
The government fronted by a technocrat, Giuseppe Conte, but it was in reality increasingly dominated by Salvini. His anti-immigrant, ultra-Catholic and anti-EU rhetoric became the dominant theme of the coalition.
Rising in popularity, Salvini gambled on new elections this autumn and withdrew his support for the coalition in late August. But what he did not count on was that the Five Star Movement might form a new government with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).
Yet this is exactly what happened earlier this month. Central to the formation of a new coalition was Matteo Renzi, former Prime Minister who led the PD to victory in 2014 but defeat in a referendum in 2016 and an election in 2018.
Renzi wanted the current parliament to continue because he can still count on the support of many sitting MPs, a situation which would have changed had a new election been called and a raft of new MPs been elected.
Within days of the new government being sworn in, moreover, Renzi led a split from the PD to form his own new party. This has still to be named but is likely to be modelled on Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche and Spain's Ciudadanos.
Indeed, Renzi has billed himself a man to save Italy’s status in Europe. He promises to fight Salvini’s extremism, push through what could be termed neoliberal populist measures like reducing parliament, and, critically, crafting a budget which the EU would approve – against Salvini’s promises to ignore EU spending rules.
Renzi could only count on around 20 MPs in the lower house of parliament, and 13 in the upper house, to form his new party, and polls suggest he could count on only around 5 percent of votes. But he now holds the PD and the Five Star Movement as hostages, much to the delight of the financial markets.
This new government will not be as catastrophic for migrants as Salvini’s, at least in the short term. But it remains wedded to the austerity agenda of the EU, and could get more and more unpopular as time passes. The risk is therefore high that Salvini, who was damaged by his apparent power grab in August, will slowly regain popularity as a champion of democracy against an unelected elite.
Sound familiar? Britain faces a not dissimilar set of possibilities. A Remainer Parliament that threatens to delay an election in favour of a referendum. And who knows? A split from Labour by more centrists who team up with the Liberal Democrats in a desperate bid to stop not just Boris Johnson – but their own current party from winning the next election, so long as it is led by Jeremy Corbyn.
The Italian scenario is a warning to the left not to delay further but fight for a general election as soon as possible.
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