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ELECTION

How an unexpected alliance thwarted Salvini’s bid for Italian snap election

The spectre of a snap election in Italy appears to have retreated after two former foes teamed up to defeat a far-right no-confidence bid.

How an unexpected alliance thwarted Salvini's bid for Italian snap election
Matteo Salvini said he would try for another no-confidence vote. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The leader of the anti-migration League, Matteo Salvini, pulled the plug on his coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) last week, hoping for a no-confidence vote that would topple the government.

But his abandoned partner found an unexpected ally in the opposition Democratic Party (PD).

Both M5S and PD on Tuesday voted against Salvini despite his last-minute offer to back a plan to slash the number of the country's lawmakers.

Salvini said he would back the reform, one of M5S's key pledges, on condition they supported a no-confidence vote in independent Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's government and hold snap polls.

M5S was having none of it. Leader Luigi Di Maio pointed out that Salvini had backed himself into a corner as electoral reform would take at least eight months, during which an election cannot be held.

“Salvini is at a dead end, if he wants to reduce the number of lawmakers, he can't vote no-confidence in Conte,” Di Maio said late on Tuesday.

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

The day after the failed vote, Salvini said he would try for another no-confidence vote on August 20th, when Conte is to address the Senate. But he made no mention of parliamentary reform.

“On August 20th, we will vote no-confidence in the prime minister. No to palace manoeuvres and to technical and bizarre governments. The democratic, transparent, linear path is that of elections,” Salvini said on Wednesday.

If Salvini backs the parliamentary reform, his support – along with that of former PD premier Matteo Renzi at the other end of the political spectrum – means it will likely be passed by MPs on August 22nd or 23rd.

The money saved from having fewer lawmakers, around €50 million ($56 million), should be spent on schools, roads and hospitals, said Di Maio.

However the reform must then be put to referendum, which takes at least six months, said experts on Italy's complex parliamentary system, plus another two months is required to draw up a new electoral law, during which time no elections can be held.

The broken League-M5S coalition would remain paralyzed and unable to agree on the crucial 2020 budget which must find an extra 23 billion euros or Italy's VAT rate would rise from 22 to 25 percent in January next year.

M5S and PD alliance?

Renzi has proposed a M5S-PD alliance to pass the budget, despite the virulent exchanges between the two parties after Renzi resigned in December 2016.

Both the PD and M5S remain divided on cooperating with each other.

The M5S left wing represented by lower house speaker Roberto Fico is more favourable, while the more right-wing Di Maio faction is more reluctant.

“A government limited to the PD and M5S created with the aim of lasting until 2022 is the most realistic scenario, provided they find a coherent basic programme and a minimum of shared vision,” Stefano Folli wrote on Wednesday in the left-leaning Repubblica newspaper.

Di Maio is instead seeking a reshuffle with more M5S portfolios, and PD parliamentary support, as part of a second Conte government.

Nevertheless, nothing is ever certain in Italy's fluid politics, and the League and its potential allies from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia and Giorgia Meloni's extreme-right Brothers of Italy could garner 50 percent of votes in an election, according to the latest opinion polls.

By AFP's  Françoise Kadri

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ITALIAN POLITICS

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.

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