Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation on August 20, effectively ending the coalition government of Matteo Salvini’s right-wing Lega (League) and the Five Star Movement (M5S), which has been in power for 14 months.
M5S and Lega have been at loggerheads over the past few weeks, over crucial questions such as the approval of the Turin-Lyon high-speed railway (TAV) and the shameful immigration policies advocated by Salvini.
On one side, Lega demanded a vote of no confidence in Conte and accused M5S of having broken their coalition deal. On the other side, M5S decided to firmly distance themselves from Salvini’s agenda, in order to regain some credibility among their electorate.
Regarding M5S’s decision, it was a case of better late than never; but M5S has already betrayed some of its vows, compromising on immigration and domestic policies in exchange for social and labour policies.
This compromise allowed Lega to double their votes and Salvini to increase his popularity out of all proportion and to present himself as a strong, charismatic leader.
Salvini’s preferred aim would probably be to go to new elections as soon as possible, given the latest polls show the right could easily win.
Salvini also recently asked the Italian people to give him full powers “to do what we have promised to do, and go all the way without hurdles”, echoing former Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s words in 1922.
The threat to democracy expressed by Salvini, however, didn’t go unnoticed by his coalition partner. Conte scolded him, saying Salvini “has shown he is following his own interests and those of his party” and that “his decisions pose serious risks for this country”.
What happens now?
President Sergio Mattarella will now consult with all political forces regarding the possibility of forming a new majority within Parliament. If successful, this would avoid the need for fresh elections, which Mattarella thinks would increase political instability.
In this context, the most likely scenario is an alternative government alliance between M5S and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD). However, both parties will have to “bury the hatchet” and unite in the name of their anti-Salvini agenda — a big ask.
In any event, if M5S and the PD form government, it will be a caretaker government only. Its agenda will be preventing a consumption tax increase, reforming the electoral laws and confirming the pro-European Union approach of previous governments.
However, a change of direction from both M5S and PD would be desirable. The M5S should reinforce the progressive and environmentalist points of its agenda, and leave behind the disastrous experience of the previous government. The PD should repudiate its recent past by firmly and definitively rejecting the neoliberal agenda it has endorsed over the past few decades.
There is a possibility that if the M5S and PD outvote Salvini, it could result in a further increase in his popularity, allowing him to play victim.
While outvoting Salvini may momentarily avert danger, in order to defeat his politics once and for all, the left needs to build a solid and viable alternative to his racist and nationalistic agenda — one based on wealth redistribution and ecosocialism.