The far-right populist party leader Matteo Salvini is increasingly viewed as Italy's next prime minister after his Northern League party won more votes in Sunday's general election than his coalition partner, the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. The results showed the right-wing, anti-immigrant and euro-skeptic League party of Salvini surpassing the longtime anchor of the center-right, the Forza Italia party of ex-Premier Berlusconi. According to the partial results, the League captured around 18 percent of the vote, while Forza Italia had less than 14 percent.
"The center-right has won and can govern," League head Matteo Salvini said from his native Milan, presenting himself as coalition leader and prime minister-in-waiting.
A firebrand populist who counts Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen among his political heroes, the 44-year-old has revitalized his League party by campaigning against immigration and promising to put "Italians first." Salvini promised to deport hundreds of thousands
of "irregular" migrants, and has called the euro a "failed currency."
With most ballots counted, the League was leading the dominant right-wing coalition, which won roughly 37 percent of the vote overall. Salvini's party surged in the polls after promising to shut down Roma camps, deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and tackle what it calls the "danger" of Islam.
The virulently anti-immigrant League's big jump in popularity came through a remarkable transformation. For this election, Salvini
shed the name "Northern" from the party's label, seeking to expand influence beyond its geographic stronghold. In the south, where it made virtually no impact at all in the 2013 election, it polled 6.7 percent, a respectable showing he can use to strengthen his hand in maneuvering to create a government. Salvini also cozied up with like-minded Europeans. He met privately with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in 2014 in Milan, has aligned himself with France's populist leader Marine Le Pen and praised Hungary's leader Viktor Orban, who similarly took a hard stand on migrants.
The results leave the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League party in the driving seat as the country looks to cobble together a government with a working majority. However, Salvini ruled out jumping ship to form a Eurosceptic government with the M5S. "No. N-O," he told reporters. The boost for far-right and populist parties has prompted comparisons to Britain's vote to leave the European Union and the rise of U.S. President Donald Trump.