Italian Matteo Salvini calls for new elections due to coalition split

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and the leader of the far-right League party, has called for a snap election, urging the prime minister to reconvene parliament to confirm that the coalition government is no longer viable.

The dramatic move on Thursday came after months of fighting between the League and its coalition partners, the anti-establishement Five Star Movement (M5S).

The cavernous differences between the parties were clearly exposed on Wednesday when parliament rejected a motion by M5S to block a high-speed rail project linking Italy and France. M5S has built most of its popularity on vehemently opposing the long-stalled project but was outvoted by the League and opposition parties.

In a statement, Salvini, who is also Italy’s interior minister, said it was pointless continuing the government with all the quarrelling.

“Italians need certainty and a government that does things, not a ‘Mr No’,” he said.

“We do not want extra seats or ministers, nor do we want reshuffles or technical governments. After this government (which has done so many good things), the only thing is elections.”

Salvini said he told the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, who does not belong to either party, to reconvene parliament straight away to “acknowledge that there is no longer a majority, as evidenced by the vote [on Wednesday] and the repeated insults against me.”

Conte, who had held separate talks with Salvini and the country’s President Sergio Mattarella as the crisis deepened, said in a statement later that the interior minister doesn’t summon parliament and “it’s not up to him to dictate the steps of the political crisis.”

Conte called on Salvini “to explain to the country and justify to the electorate, who believed in the possibility of change, the reasons that brought him to abruptly interrupt” the activities of government.

Luigi Di Maio, the M5S leader and co-deputy prime minister, said he was ready to return to the polls as “the League has mocked Italians”.

The uneasy partnership between the far-right League and the anti-establishment M5S has been rocked by ongoing spats. The coalition came to power in June 2018 but the government has been on shaky ground for much of the time, with constant speculation that Salvini would orchestrate a collapse in order to take advantage of his high poll ratings.

Salvini has been threatening new elections for weeks as the League reached 39% in opinion polls. Meanwhile, support for M5S has more than halved to 15% over the last year.

The League also triumphed in May’s European elections, winning 24% of the vote. The M5S only managed 17%, putting it in third place behind the centre-left Democratic party, which took 23%.

Salvini, who is almost always in campaign mode, began a two-week trip around the country’s beaches on Wednesday in attempt to whip up more support. Sabaudia, a beach town close to Rome, was the first stop on the trip, which will also take in the central regions of Abruzzo and Molise, before heading south to Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Campania.

The Italian parliament is now on its summer break but it could reconvene next week. The government won’t move towards a collapse unless there’s a no-confidence motion or Conte resigns. It then rests with Mattarella to dissolve the government and decide if the next step would be snap elections or the installation of a technical government in order to pass the 2020 budget in the autumn.