How the League’s Matteo Salvini played his cards right amid Italy’s political chaos

As Italy struggles to form a government to end three months of political turmoil, right-wing populist leader Matteo Salvini has emerged strengthened and eyeing victory in the event of fresh elections, analysts says.

How the League's Matteo Salvini played his cards right amid Italy's political chaos
Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's League party. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The anti-immigration, eurosceptic leader was the dark horse of the March 4th vote, with his League party emerging as the strongest member of a rightwing coalition which topped the polls. But no single force obtained the numbers needed to form a majority in parliament, since Salvini's alliance garnered 37 percent of the vote and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) almost 33 percent. 

In the months of political horsetrading that ensued to form a government, the nationalist Salvini has seen his hand strengthened and is experiencing a meteoric rise in the opinion polls. From 17 percent on election day, surveys now put the League at over 20 percent – it scored 22 percent in a recent IndexResearch poll – while other parties' ratings have largely stayed the same as in March or declined. 

Seemingly unable to put a foot wrong, the bullish Salvini has begun calling the shots. He called off a proposed populist coalition government between his party and the Five Star Movement after President Sergio Mattarella rejected his choice for economy minister, the eurosceptic Paolo Savona.


Under the Italian constitution, the president has the power to veto proposed members of the cabinet.

“I will never accept that anyone says no to an Italian government minister,” Salvini said on Wednesday. “Either the government is the one proposed or there is no government.”

After the Five Star-League alliance collapsed, fresh polls looked to be the most likely outcome of the political saga. But while Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio is scrambling to put the coalition back on track, Salvini says he welcomes a return to the polls, confident that his party would emerge stronger than ever.

“We will go back to the polls together with those who support our programme,” said Salvini at a campaign rally in Pisa. “Because Italy can no longer be the country that continues to say 'yes sir' to Europe.”

What explains Salvini's popularity boom?

Data websites suggest his omnipresence in the media is a factor. According to the website which follows 1,500 media sources, Salvini was mentioned 13,533 times from May 14th to 29th, far more than Five Star's Di Maio.

Analysts also suggest that his unflinching stance on the party's core issues at a time of great uncertainty appeals to voters. The League appears “as the political group with the greatest consistency… this consistency makes them more clearly identifiable,” said Marc Lazar, political science professor at Rome's Luiss University.

READ ALSO: Matteo Salvini, the rebranded nationalist leading Italy's right

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Another string in the bow of the 45-year-old Salvini, who entered the world of politics aged just 17, is his gift for public speaking.

“Salvini's communication skills are quite remarkable,” said Lazar, adding that the League leader understands how to “play the public against the institutions”.

Salvini stays close to his support base on social media, his informal and often outspoken posts earning him millions of followers on Facebook and hundreds of thousands on Twitter. And he constantly seeks dialogue, encouraging his supporters to comment on his posts.

How does his M5S counterpart measure up?

Analysts contrast Salvini's political prowess with the relative inexperience of the 31-year-old Di Maio, who entered politics with his election to parliament in 2013.

“Luigi Di Maio, despite leading the party with the most votes, has no clear strategy and no cultural or ideological background to guide him,” Fabbrini said. “So he makes choices that are very tactical, with little political experience.”

On Tuesday night at a rally in Naples, Di Maio recognized his ally Salvini's clout.

Having called for Mattarella's impeachment for blocking the coalition's government, Di Maio conceded: “We cannot impeach the president because Salvini does not want to.” 

READ ALSO: Is Italy's League a ‘far-right' party?

Photo: Paco Serinelli/AFP

By Ljubomir Milasin


Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents’ rights

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Milan on Saturday in protest against a new government directive stopping local authorities from registering the births of same-sex couples' children.

Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents' rights

“You explain to my son that I’m not his mother,” read one sign held up amid a sea of rainbow flags that filled the northern city’s central Scala Square.

Italy legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016, but opposition from the Catholic Church meant it stopped short of granting gay couples the right to adopt.

Decisions have instead been made on a case-by-case basis by the courts as parents take legal action, although some local authorities decided to act unilaterally.

Milan’s city hall had been recognising children of same-sex couples conceived overseas through surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy, or medically assisted reproduction, which is only available for heterosexual couples.

But its centre-left mayor Beppe Sala revealed earlier this week that this had stopped after the interior ministry sent a letter insisting that the courts must decide.

READ ALSO: Milan stops recognising children born to same-sex couples

“It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view, and I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this possibility in Milan,” he said in a podcast, vowing to fight the change.

Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala has assured residents that he will fight to have the new government directive overturned. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Gay Party said about 20 children are waiting to be registered in Milan, condemning the change as “unjust and discriminatory”.

A mother or father who is not legally recognised as their child’s parent can face huge bureaucratic problems, with the risk of losing the child if the registered parent dies or the couple’s relationship breaks down.

Elly Schlein, newly elected leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, was among opposition politicians who attended the protest on Saturday, where many campaigners railed against the new government.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party came top in the September elections, puts a strong emphasis on traditional family values.

“Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby!” she said in a speech last year before her election at the head of a right-wing coalition that includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee voted against an EU plan to oblige member states to recognise the rights of same-sex parents granted elsewhere in the bloc.