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Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio. Photo supplied

Italy’s coalition government in tatters after Salvini calls for early elections

Deputy Premier and League leader Matteo Salvini on Thursday called for Italy to have early elections, saying that the coalition that supports Premier Giuseppe Conte's government has broken down.

Published: August 9, 2019, 11:38 am

    The failed attempt by coalition partner Five Star Movement (M5S) to derail plans for a high-speed rail link has signalled the end of the coalition.

    The ruling coalition formed by the M5S and the League now hangs by a thread after a government disagreement over the Lyon-Turin rail link. The League/M5S coalition government was thrown into turmoil on Wednesday when the ruling majority split dramatically in votes in parliament about the Treno Alta Velocità (TVA) high-speed rail-link project.

    Matteo Salvini, whi is also Italian Interior Minister and leader of the League, on August 8 said early elections should be held as “quickly” as possible, decreeing the break-up of the ruling coalition.

    “Let’s go straight to Parliament to take note that there is no more a majority […] and quickly give the floor to the voters,” he demanded in a statement issued after a series of meetings between the coalition’s political leaders.

    “It is useless to go ahead with ‘no’ and disputes, as in recent weeks. Italians need certainty and a government that works,” he added.

    Throughout the day, consultations took place between the head of government Giuseppe Conte and President Sergio Mattarella, as well as between Giuseppe Conte and Salvini.

    The vice-president of the Italian Council of Ministers made a transparent allusion to his allies of the M5S and his Minister of Infrastructure, Danilo Toninelli, fiercely opposed to the Lyon-Turin TGV project. The multibillion-euro TAV link involves digging a 58km tunnel through the Alps.

    The rail link is bitterly opposed by M5S on environmental grounds.

    The crisis in the coalition was triggered by the last vote of the parliamentary session on this rail link. The M5S found itself voting a motion against this high-speed French-Italian link, while the League supported two opposition motions in favor of the project.

    Matteo Salvini denounced, in his statement, “repeated insults directed at me and the League from so-called allies”. Danilo Toninelli had recently described Salvini as “dwarf sitting on the shoulders of giants”.

    The Senate voted against a motion presented by the M5S seeking to stop the TAV with 181 votes against, including those of League lawmakers, and 110 in favour, while other motions in favour of the project were approved.

    The project will halve the travel time between the two cities to just two hours. The tunnel would also make it possible to travel from Paris to Milan in around four hours, instead of the currant almost seven hours.

    The project was launched 20 years ago and part of it has already been started. The EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of the cost, scheduled for completion in 2025.

    “I reiterated today to Premier Conte that we should go to parliament immediately to acknowledge that the ruling majority no longer exists, as shown by the TAV vote,” Salvini said in a statement after meeting the premier.

    The TAV is just one of several issues that has caused tension between the M5S and League recently.

    Fellow Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio said Thursday that his 5-Star Movement (M5S) was ready for a snap election. Di Maio, who is also Labour and Industry Minister, said that the League had “joked with the country”.

    He said that early elections should not be held, however, until a reform to cut the number of lawmakers by 345 is approved.

    Democratic Party (PD) leader Nicola Zingaretti said that his opposition group was ready for early elections too. “We are ready for the challenge,” Zingaretti said via Facebook.

    “The next election won’t just decide which government (Italy has) but also the destiny of our democracy, the international position of our country. The PD is making a call to bring together all the parties that intend to stop dangerous ideas and personalities.

    “We are at work immediately, together, to have a better Italy victorious”. Early elections are however in Salvini’s interest as the League is by far the best-supported party in Italy at the moment, according to the opinion polls.

    Salvini’s party is currently well ahead in opinion polls, due mainly to his stance against illegal immigration. The polls indicate that votes for the League together and the Brothers of Italy, Forza Italy and the other center-right parties could exceed 50 percent.

    Salvini tweeted a video of a migrant washing himself completely naked in public to the “bewilderment of Salerno”, a port city southeast of Naples. He questioned whether this “lifestyle” was really that voters on the left wanted to see for the country’s “future”.

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