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An early general election in Italy is likely, analysts say

The far-right League and its leader Matteo Salvini will "engineer a political crisis to trigger a general election" this year, analysts predict in a new forecast released today.

An early general election in Italy is likely, analysts say
(L-R) Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and League leader Matteo Salvini. Photo: AFP

And the Italian economy will barely avoid a recession, with both spending and investments expected to slow down, according to a new forecast released today by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

“We expect Mr Salvini to seek to engineer a political crisis late this year in an effort to precipitate a general election in late 2019, or more likely, in the first half of 2020,” EIU analyst Peter Ceretti told The Local Italy.

“Salvini’s ultimate goal is to replace Silvio Berlusconi as the leader of a broad coalition of the centre-right,” Ceretti said.

He added that the League would be “well positioned to become the country’s largest party at an early poll.”

Support for the once-marginal party is growing. The League won about 17 percent of the total vote at the general election in March 2018 and is now polling at around 32 percent.

League leader Matteo Salvini. Photo: AFP

Though Salvini is co-deputy prime minister, alongside Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), his anti-immigrant rhetoric has dominated Italian politics since his party formed a coalition government with M5S in June 2018.

“Since the formation of the government the League has been in the driving seat, eclipsing M5S in terms of popularity,” said Ceretti.

Analysts will be closely watching the European Parliament Elections this May, at which they say the League “will be able to deploy its anti-EU rhetoric to full effect and lock-in its recent gains in support.”

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

Salvini is also expected to seek to cement the newfound popularity of the League (formerly the Northern League) beyond its heartland in the affluent north at upcoming Italian regional elections.

Italian regional elections in February (Abruzzo, Sardegna), March (Basilicata), May (Piemonte) and November (Calabria, Emilia Romagna) “will give the party the opportunity to consolidate its power across the country,” said Ceretti.

The League is expected to make significant gains in Emilia Romagna, the historic heart of Italy's left-leaning 'Red Belt'.

“A victory in several regions would confirm the Lega's dominance throughout the country,” said Ceretti.

While M5S’s voter base is mainly in the poorer south of Italy, Salvini’s party has so far struggled to gain votes in southern regions after previously deriding southern Italians as layabouts and criminals.

READ ALSO: Matteo Salvini, Italy's rebranded nationalist sharing power with former enemy

Support for M5S has been waning since the national elections in March 2018, and the League is now polling well ahead of M5S.

“The League and M5S have competing policy priorities, which will eventually create frictions within the government, especially if economic growth disappoints and the dispute with the EU on fiscal policy intensifies.”

The European Commission is expected to monitor Italy’s fiscal performance closely after the drawn-out dispute over the 2019 draft budget.

Photo: AFP

Any signs of slippage are likely to be met with stern warnings, which could unnerve investors and push up government borrowing costs once again.

Real GDP growth will slow markedly to 0.2 percent, the EIU said, down from an estimated 0.9 percent in 2018. It foresees a slowdown in both investment and consumer spending.

Another pressure point is a criminal case being brought against Salvini. The deputy premier is facing potential charges over his refusal to let a ship with rescued migrants dock in Italy last summer.

This puts M5S in tricky position: the “anti-corruption” party has long said any minister investigated for a crime should be dismissed. But Di Maio isn’t expected to demand Salvini’s resignation.

“M5S has made little opposition to the League's policy decisions. We believe that M5S will probably continue to appease the League in the near term,” said Ceretti.

However, he points out that the political landscape is “fraught with risks” for the League.

“First, the M5S-Lega government is very popular, and Mr Salvini’s manoeuvring could appear opportunistic to voters who are satisfied with its performance.”

And ultimately, it’s up to President Sergio Mattarella, not parliament, to decide whether the country should hold a new general election.

By resigning and opening a government crisis, Ceretti said, “Salvini would effectively be putting Sergio Mattarella in the driver’s seat and surrendering control of the situation.”

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

READ ALSO:

ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.

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