Whether Salvini would keep his word – or survive politically long enough to do so – was not clear, after his anti-immigrant League party dropped below the 10 percent threshold at Sunday’s vote.
This was a sharp decrease after the party swept to office with 17 percent of the vote in 2018 – since when it has been eclipsed by Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy.
A glum Salvini, who has clashed with Meloni on a range of policies, not least her stance on Russia and the war in Ukraine, told reporters that winning just nine percent had been a blow.
It was “not a number I wanted or worked for”, he said.
Salvini added that he had “gone to bed fairly pissed off but woke up ready to go” and was now “looking on the bright side”.
Meloni “was good. We will work together for a long time”, he promised.
The League may now have to battle to ensure its priorities are not sidelined in Meloni’s government programme, analysts said.
And while ex-interior minister Salvini has repeatedly said he wants his former job back, it is looking increasingly unlikely to happen.
“It won’t be an easy relationship. It’s likely that (Salvini) will be given a more marginal role in the government than he wants,” Sofia Ventura, political sciences professor at Bologna University, told the foreign press association in Rome.
“The result… throws into question Matteo Salvini’s leadership” of his own party, she said, adding that there were those within the League who thought they would be better off without the “loose cannon”.
He said Meloni had benefited from being the only leader to stay outside the coalition formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021.
For the League, being part of that administration “was not easy”, he said, but insisted “I would do it again.”
‘Dangerous when cornered’
Meloni secured around 26 percent of the vote in Sunday’s poll, putting her on course to become the first woman to serve as Italian prime minister.
She campaigned as part of a coalition including Salvini’s League and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which won around eight percent.
Italian politics is notoriously unstable, with nearly 70 governments since 1946, and there were concerns disagreements with Salvini may precipitate a fresh crisis.
Lorenzo Pregliasco, co-founder of the YouTrend polling site, said Italian party leaders proved “dangerous” when they felt cornered.
The League head “might not create any problems in the short term” but “watch out for the Salvini factor, if he survives politically as a leader”.
Salvini however said that after years of unwieldy coalitions, Italy finally had “a government chosen by its citizens, with a clear majority” in both houses of parliament.
And he hoped it could “go for at least five years straight, without changes, without upheavals, focusing on things to do”.