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Why a wave of anti-Salvini protests is sweeping Italy

The removal of a protest banner against Italian far-right League leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has sparked widespread protests around the country.

Why a wave of anti-Salvini protests is sweeping Italy
Riot police clashed with anti-League protestors in Naples on Thursday. Photo: CARLO HERMANN/AFP

The previously sporadic protests became a wave after authorities in northern city Bergamo on Monday ordered firefighters to remove a banner reading “You're not welcome” ahead of the minister's visit.

Firefighers removing the protest banner ahead of Salvini's visit to Bergamo on Monday. Photo: Giorigio Gori/Twitter

Photo and video footage of the removal went viral, triggering widespread anger and concerns about attempts to curb freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

In response, protestors hung hundreds of similar protest banners in the city of Campobasso on Wednesday ahead of Salvini's rally,

Protests continued in Naples on Thursday, where Salvini received an even colder reception from residents angry about the minister insulting southern Italians.

A banner reading 'Naples renounces Salvini' on an apartment building in the city yesterday. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

The wave of protest comes as the social-media obsessed anti-immigrant League party leader continues his tour of Italy, frantically campaigning ahead of next week's European parliamentary elections.

Banners across Naples told Salvini he wasn't welcome ahead of his arrival for a securty meeting in the city, and riot police were sent in to quell protests as anti-League demonstrators gathered in a city square.

“Salvini go home!”, “Naples doesn't want you!”, “No to the minister of hate”, read some of the banners hanging from the city's famed balconies.

Many banners in Campobasso, Naples and elsewhere made references to “terroni”, a derogatory word equivalent to “rednecks” or “country bumpkins” that Salvini has used to describe southerners.

Salvini frequently derided southern Italians before his northern-separatist party, formerly known as the Northern League, became a national entity, chasing votes across the country with its “Italians first” slogan.

The minister has been widely mocked on social media, as Twitter users post photos of their favourite protest banners under the hashtag #Salvinitoglianchequesti (Salvini take these down as well)

“When are you going to work?” asked other banners, after Italian daily La Repubblica revealed this week that Salvini had spent just 17 days at the interior ministry so far this year.

A protest banner reading 'Salvini racist not in my name'. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

Other banners goaded the nationalist about the 49 million euros of misspent public money that his party is supposed to pay back in instalments, or the Zorro toy Salvini revealed this week was stolen from him as a child.

“Some of the banners make me laugh,” Salvin tweeted, claiming that there have been 126 banners this year containing “insults and death threats”.

Protestors also continue to play photo and video pranks on the minister while he thinks they're posing for selfies.

The trend took off after two women kissed in a photo with the minister, known for his anti-LGBT views, and police seized the phone of a woman who made a video of herself asking Salvini whether he still thought southerners were “terroni”.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Rome have opened an investigation following allegations in Italian media that Salvini has been misusing police aircraft to attend League party rallies around Italy. The minister denies any wrongdoing.

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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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