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A deal struck Tuesday between the populist 5-Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party sidelined right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini, who had been hoping to force early elections that could have handed him the premiership.
The populist 5-Star Movement and the Democrats banded together in an unlikely alliance together to thwart Matteo Salvini’s moribund attempt at a power grab. Salvini unexpectedly withdrew support for the struggling government, jointly led by his League party and the 5-Star Movement (M5S), in the middle of the summer holidays in early August in a bid to force snap elections.
Tuesday’s deal marks the end of Italy’s first far-right postwar government and marks a stunning defeat for Salvini, now the outgoing interior minister and deputy prime minister. But his political career may be far from over.
“He committed a political error rather than one of timing,” said Lorenzo Castellani, political science lecturer at Rome’s Luiss University, in comments to AFP.
But he underestimated the ability of Italy’s parliamentary system and European allies to fight back.
Salvini didn’t see that “through contacts between European capitals and Italian President Sergio Mattarella, a deal was reached to prevent him cashing in on votes”, Castellani said.
Ever the wild card, Salvini also “frightened Europeans” when he refused to vote for Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission president despite having previously agreed to do so, said Castellani.
“He reasoned according to his party’s eurosceptic impulses and his Italian electorate,” said Castellani.
European powers “feared having to deal with another Boris Johnson” he said, while Salvini “didn’t understand the real game of the forces that were against him”.
On the day he pulled the plug on the government, opinion polls said Salvini’s party would win 38 percent of votes in a national election. Since then, that number has fallen to around 31 percent.
Some experts predict that his share of voter intentions will fall even further, potentially below 20 percent because, as Castellani notes, “Italians are cynical and they don’t like smart alecks who turn out to be losers.”
Planning a comeback
Known for his virulent anti-migrant and eurosceptic rhetoric, Salvini spent the summer grabbing headlines as he refused to let ships carrying migrants dock in Italy, at times despite appeals that those aboard were facing an acute humanitarian crisis. A high-profile trial in July in which a migrant ship captain faced charges for docking on the Italian island of Lampedusa despite orders not to also focused international attention on the issue. The German captain, 31-year-old Carola Rackete, was later released.
Pending a return to power, Salvini, 46, who has been a politician since his teenaged years, said he “will not let go”. He has called for a massive anti-government rally in Rome on October 19.
The Milan native became the head of the League in 2013 when the party was staring into the political abyss, turning the regional movement into a nationalist party that rapidly overtook right-wing ally Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia before abandoning it to form a government with M5S.
And some warn against dismissing him too early, saying there is plenty of potential for a comeback.
Italian philosopher Maurizio Cacciari warned in the left-leaning Stampa daily on Thursday that, “The PD-M5S alliance may benefit Salvini.”
“You need new ideas to fight populism. Otherwise you will open the doors wide and we’ll have sovereignists in power for one or two generations.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)