Italian senators to discuss plan for early elections

After the League party withdrew support for the government it is part of, Italian senators have been called back from their summer holidays to decide whether to hold a no-cnfidence vote.

Italian senators to discuss plan for early elections
A view of Rome's Palazoo Chigi, the seat of the italian Prime Minister. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Senators will on Monday take an initial decision on the future of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's government after hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini plunged the country into turmoil by pulling out of the teetering coalition.

READ ALSO: Government crisis: is Italy heading for early elections?

Interior Minister Salvini last week demanded early elections after withdrawing his anti-immigration League party from an increasingly acrimonious alliance with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

Eager to capitalise on his popularity, Salvini has demanded a no-confidence vote this week. But M5S and the opposition Democratic Party (PD) are discussing a possible alliance to thwart the League's attempts to seize power.

While the government still remains in place, the Senate must decide whether to initiate a confidence vote in Conte's 14-month-old administration.

The heads of political groupings in the upper house are meeting on Monday afternoon. If they agree to back a no-confidence vote they will then decide on a date.

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio and Salvini will first rally their respective lawmakers, with Salvini hoping for a no-confidence vote by August 20 with elections to follow.

Former centre-left premier Enrico Letta slammed the “political chaos” in Italy. Photo: AFP

A national vote could come at the end of October to capitalise on opinion polls suggesting the League might get 36-38 percent of votes.

But if the Senate party heads cannot agree, the decision will go to a full Senate vote, which the League is not sure to win as it has only 58 of the 315 elected members.

Salvini has also warned that the League's seven ministers could resign and bring down the government.

Populist leader Salvini effectively ended the ruling alliance on Thursday, saying afterwards he had had enough of working with the M5S and what he said was its refusal to collaborate on key issues. 

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

The two parties have seen a stunning reversal of fortunes since forming a government after the M5S won 32 percent of votes and the League 18 percent in 2018.

Salvini has been taking his message to the beaches at the height of the summer holiday season, seeking to build on the League's strong showing in May's European Parliament elections when it won 34 percent of the vote, twice that of the M5S.

But Salvini would still need parliamentary allies to form a government,saying on Monday that he would “in the coming hours” meet former premier Silvio Berlusconi and the head of the extreme-right Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, to “propose an electoral pact”.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia party and Brothers of Italy could each get 6-8 percent of votes in an election, according to opinion polls.

Salvini has been relentlessly campaigning in southern Italy, the M5S's traditional heartland and far from the League's historic political base in the north.

The social media-loving Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, has been burnishing his macho-populist image with beach selfies in recent days.

Some voters in the south have been protesting against Salvini, recalling his past diatribes against southern Italians whom he accused of sponging from the state.

Salvini's party, formerly the Northern League, has since rebranded as the League as part of efforts to appeal to voters across the country.

Salvini says he wants an election in order to form a stable, five-year government without the constant bickering with M5S, which is politically distant from the League's hardline anti-immigration stance.

But the M5S is among those opposed to swift elections, with Di Maio calling for parliament first to implement a planned parliamentary reform which would slash the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605.

The M5S's founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, called for a “republican front” to prevent “the barbarians” forming a government.

Former centre-left premier Enrico Letta warned on Sunday that Salvini “has no principles” and told AFP he was “very concerned” by the “political chaos” in Italy.


Letta's successor Matteo Renzi, who governed for the Democratic Party (PD) from 2014-16, called for the formation of a technocrat government to avoid “giving the extreme right our children's future”.

The M5S, PD and other parties should support an “institutional government” to pass the parliamentary reform and next year's budget to avoid an automatic rise in VAT which would hit the least well-off the hardest, Renzi said.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Three ways Italy's latest political crisis could unfold

Member comments

  1. ‘M5S and the opposition Democratic Party (PD) are discussing a possible alliance to thwart the League’s attempts to seize power.’

    Seize power? I think you mean ‘win a democratic election’. What poor, biased journalism.

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Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.