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Italy’s coalition government faces split over possible Salvini kidnap trial

Italy's Five Star Movement is using an online poll to help it decide whether to block a potential trial against League leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for alleged kidnapping and abuse of power.

Italy's coalition government faces split over possible Salvini kidnap trial
League leader Matteo Salvini could face trial. Photo: AFP

Prosecutors in southern Italy are pushing for an investigation into Salvini’s actions after the head of the far-right League party refused to let migrants disembark from a rescue ship.

The Five Star Movement (M5S) and League have been governing in an uneasy coalition since June but frequently clash over key electoral pledges.

M5S, billed as an anti-establishment party, prides itself on honesty and has long railed against politicians who have used their parliamentary privilege to avoid trials. It previously said that any minister accused of a crime should resign.

Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio. Photo: AFP

But the party seems reluctant to upset its coalition partner, and commentators think it is likely to vote to block the trial.

The M5S official blog told members this case was “different” from those where ministers had tried to get away with “bribes, fraud or rigging the markets”, because Salvini was doing his job and “not acting for personal interest”.

The movement's leader Luigi Di Maio has said Salvini was acting with their full support and that he would would stand trial alongside him.

The case concerns the stand-off over the Diciotti, which was left in limbo for ten days in August after taking onboard more than 150 people, including children, who Salvini refused permission to land in Italy. 

The ship was eventually allowed to disembark in Sicily only after the Catholic Church had brokered a deal with Ireland and Albania to take the migrants in.

READ ALSO: 'Italian ports are closed', Salvini warns migrant rescue ship seeking shelter from storm

A Senate committee is scheduled to discuss the matter on Tuesday, after which the Senate will vote – with M5S senators taking their lead from the result of the online poll.

The final word on whether Salvini can keep his protection lies with parliament. 

Photo: Alessandro Fucarini/AFP

The M5S poll, which is being held today, allows party members to say whether they think Salvini should be stripped of parliamentary protection, allowing a possible trial.

However, the poll question put to members was ridiculed by both M5S sympathisers and the opposition as being purposefully misleading.

“Was the delay in the disembarkation of the Diciotti, in order to redistribute the migrants in various European countries, taken in order to protect the interests of the state?” the question reads.

Answering “Yes” will stop the investigation, while “No” allows prosecutors to continue, according to the website.

Salvini, whose League party has soared ahead of the M5S in popularity in the polls, said Sunday he was not worried about the vote because he had “given (his) word” that the government would not fall.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Italian elections: What’s the difference between a majority and ‘super majority’?

Italy's elections on Sunday are expected to produce a far-right government, but how big a majority will it have and what difference does this make? Here's what you need to know.

Italian elections: What's the difference between a majority and 'super majority'?

The right-wing alliance of parties led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy is expected to win the September 25th general election by a landslide. 

In fact, the question many people have been asking for a while now is not whether the right will win, but by how much.

READ ALSO: Far-right Brothers of Italy eyes historic victory as Italy votes

The right-wing bloc, led by Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy and also including Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is expected to easily win a big enough share of the vote to take a majority of the seats in both houses of parliament and form a government.

But will they win a simple majority or a ‘super majority’? Here’s a quick guide to how the system works, what the difference is, and why it matters so much.

What’s a simple majority?

A government with a simple majority has the support of just over half of either the Senate or the Lower House – so at least 201 seats in the House and 101 in the Senate (not counting the six senators for life).

Getting a large enough share of the vote to ensure this is already quite an achievement in Italy, where the electoral system is set up to favour coalition governments precisely in order to stop any one party from ending up with too much power (it was, after all, designed after WW2 and the fall of Mussolini’s Fascist regime).

READ ALSO: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

So under this system, the party that takes the largest share of the vote still needs help – a coalition partner, or several – to get a majority of seats in parliament and form a workable government. This usually requires major compromise and sees parties striking difficult bargains with others from across the political spectrum.

This time, the right-wing alliance looks more than likely to win by a landslide and take a majority between them – in which case it won’t need to seek outside support.

Some political analysts predict that Meloni and Salvini’s parties will win enough seats to form a government on their own, without involving Berlusoni’s more moderate party. They might choose to join forces anyway – but the more parties involved, the less stable a government is.

And, with a smaller number of parties involved, it would basically be easier for a government to pass the laws it wants to pass. (That is of course discounting the still enormous potential for bickering and power plays between even just a few coalition partners.)

So what’s a super majority?

Known more officially in Italy as a maggioranza speciale o qualificate (special or qualified majority) a ‘super majority’ is a two-thirds majority of the seats in both houses of parliament.

The prospect of Italy’s right-wing parties reaching this threshold has been hotly discussed in the media, since a government with such a large majority would be able to make changes to the political system itself, and therefore the constitution, without consulting voters via a referendum.

EXPLAINED: Who’s who in Italy’s general election?

A political force achieving a majority large enough to change the constitution would be unprecedented in Italy’s postwar history, and could bring major changes to the country’s political system – including to how the president is elected, or the powers the prime minister has.

and right-wing parties Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the League (Lega) and Forza Italia at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, ahead of the September 25 general election.

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi (centre), set to return to government with Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni. Will they be forming a governmnt together after this election? Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

All three leaders of the right-wing alliance have called for Italy to adopt a ‘French-style’ system which would mean the president is directly elected by voters,, instead of by lawmakers as is currently the case. This would mean changing the constitution.

Which scenario is likely?

If the most recent polls are to be believed, the right is on course to easily win a simple majority and possibly go on to reach the two-thirds threshold.

Talk of a super majority came about as the last polls (published two weeks before election day, when a polling blackout began) showed the right-wing alliance was just two or three percent away from achieving the share of the vote needed to give it a ‘super’ or qualified majority of the seats in both houses of parliament.

The right was polling 19 percent ahead of the centre-left bloc, and will need a lead of at least 21-22 percent to secure a qualified majority in both houses, according to projections by Youtrend/CattaneoZanetto & Co.

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

A two-thirds majority is “possible” for the center-right “if the advantage in both chambers is around 21-22 percent,” Youtrend’s analysis explains.

Such a majority then becomes “probable” with “an advantage over the center-left of more than + 26 percent”, it says.

The winning alliance will need a majority in both houses of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, and taking a majority in the Senate is forecast to be more of a challenge.

Recent reforms mean parliament has shrunk by a third: there will now be 400 MPs in the Chamber instead of up to 630, and 200 Senators instead of 315.

A view of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.

Following constitutional reform in 2020, the number of deputies will go from 630 to 400 in the upcoming elections. Photo by Yara NARDI / AFP

Italy has a fiendishly complicated hybrid voting system: about 36 percent of seats in both houses of parliament are allocated in a first-past-the-post vote in single-member constituencies, while the rest are elected by proportional representation via party lists of candidates.

If you want to see what this looks like, try out Sky TG24’s seggiometro, or ‘seatometer’, which allows you to visualise how different election results would translate to seats in parliament.

Is there any chance of a surprise result?

This definitely hasn’t been an election campaign that has kept us on the edge of our seats. The right-wing bloc led by Giorgia Meloni has been expected to win all along – but voter sentiment has apparently shifted somewhat in the two weeks since polling blackout began.

Since the publication of opinion polls ended, support for the left-leaning Five Star Movement appears to have surged while the hard-right League is flagging, according to pollsters interviewed by Reuters this week.

Most said the prediction that the right will take a majority in both houses of parliament and form the next government remains by far the most likely outcome, even if it has been thrown into doubt somewhat by Five Star’s rise.

With Italy’s famously unpredictable politics, and many voters expected to make their minds up only on the day itself, nothing can ever really be ruled out.

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