Hardline Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was pulling out all the stops Saturday to rally supporters for a snap election after he withdrew his League party from an increasingly acrimonious coalition government, plunging the country into turmoil.
The far-right Salvini told Rai Uno television on Friday he had had enough of working with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and what he said was its refusal to work together on key issues during their 14-month alliance.
“I am in Puglia, I am meeting workers, farmers, they want a government which ensures certainty for investors,” Matteo Salvini said.
Salvini, a sharp critic of a southern Italy he says has been pampered with state handouts, has made a point of attacking high taxes and the cosy duopoly of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Europe.
Taking his message to the beaches at the height of the summer holiday season, Salvini is seeking to build on the League’s strong showing in May’s European Parliament elections when it won 34 percent of the vote, twice that of the M5S.
The message appears to be getting across. Carlo Acquaviva, 27, a lawyer in the southern city of Bari and a League supporter for the past two years, slammed M5S “for having wasted the hopes of the young” in the region.
On Thursday, as relations with fellow Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio of M5S sank to to new lows, Salvini said there was no longer a majority to support the government and called for new elections “quickly”.
That could see Italy head to the polls as early as October — when the country would also be grappling with another budget likely to provoke a fresh stand-off with the European Union over borrowing and debt levels.
Under pressure from Brussels, the government is struggling to rein in its budget deficit and manage a massive debt mountain of more than 2.3 trillion euros.
‘No palace intrigue’
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who held several rounds of talks to try to ease the crisis, angrily called on Salvini to justify his move amid speculation about a possible new government combination.
This would supposedly be between a new M5S leadership supported by the centre-left Democrat Party of former premier Matteo Renzi plus lawmakers who fear losing their seats in a snap poll.
Salvini was outraged by the possibility — “no palace intrigues, no unusual manoeuvres, this coalition is dead and we must have elections,” he told Rai Uno.
“If the kitchen is flooded, you don’t wait two weeks before calling the plumber,” he said, urging lawmakers to return to Rome to vote down the government.
Both houses of parliament are on recess for the summer holidays and not due back until September.
But the League’s no-confidence motion against Conte in the Senate was submitted on Friday and under its rules, it has to be addressed within 10 days, so no later than August 20.
The president of the Senate has called for the heads of the parliamentary groups to meet Monday to set a date to discuss the motion. A similar meeting in the lower house is expected on Tuesday.
An election in October would be unheard of and potentially complicate drawing up of the budget at a time when market volatility is already high and rising, pushing up Italy’s borrowing costs even more.
“Autumn coincides with key moments, like the budget law. Elections in that period are unprecedented,” Massimo Franco, a columnist for Italy’s biggest selling Corriere della Sera daily, told AFP.
The many uncertainties at home and abroad are adding to the sense of crisis in a key European economy and eurozone member state.
Italian press reports say Conte wants to be able to attend the G7 meeting in France which opens on August 24 and also to make the decision on who should be the country’s next representative on the incoming European Commission which takes office later this year.
Analysts say that if lawmakers return to Rome by August 20, then parliament could be dissolved by the end of the month.
That would mean an election in October or early November, in line with Salvini’s plan.
The decision to call an election however rests with President Sergio Mattarella, currently on holiday in Sardinia, who is known to oppose polls in October.