Italy grapples with political crisis sparked by far-right Salvini

Published 15.08.2019 00:25

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, announced last Thursday that he would file a motion of no-confidence in the government and wanted early elections. Fast forward a week and the coalition government is still in office, with no clear picture emerging of what will happen next, or even when. Salvini's plan is not going smoothly because the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and center-left parties in parliament are seeking ways of avoiding an election some four years ahead of schedule and of forming an alternative majority instead.

Instead of scheduling a vote on the no-confidence motion the far-right League party lodged against the government last week, members of the Italian Senate, hastily summoned back from vacation to grapple with the political crisis, voted to have Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte address Parliament's upper chamber on Aug.20. It was unclear if a vote on the motion would follow. At the end of his speech he could do what other prime ministers have done in similar situations and go straight to President Sergio Mattarella and resign, opening a formal crisis. But the picture has been clouded by Salvini's unexpected pledge on Tuesday to pass a reform cutting the number of lawmakers in future legislatures.

The law was eagerly sought by the 5-Star Movement, the government's senior partner, which made cutting back on highly paid lawmakers and their entourages, derided by some in Italy as "the caste" a key promise to its base. Salvini, pointing to the 5-Star Movement's memebers in the Senate, pledged that after the cost-cutting measure receives final approval in the lower Chamber of Deputies, "we vote the day after" in a general election. This parliamentary vote is scheduled for Aug. 22 and will almost certainly not be able to take place if the government falls beforehand.

At some stage next week, it is highly likely that Salvini will get his way and bring down the government. At that point, attention will switch to President Mattarella, who must decide on the next steps. He will hold consultations with all political leaders. If he decides there is no way of creating a stable, new government, he will call for elections, which would probably be held in late October, some 3.5 years ahead of schedule. He might appoint a caretaker administration of technocrats to manage day-to-day business ahead of the vote.

Addressing the renewed political crisis in the country, Italy's Corriere Della Sera newspaper said yesterday this was "the maddest crisis in the world" and political commentators are deeply divided over the likely outcome. The left-leaning Repubblica daily said yesterday that Tuesday's maneuverings now made early elections unlikely. A survey of political analysts and journalists conducted by polling agency Youtrend showed they were split 50/50 between those expecting an October vote and those forecasting a new government.

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