Italy: Far-right leader Matteo Salvini seeks to trigger snap vote

Italy braces for snap election in autumn that could move the country further to the right.

    Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has brought down the government in a bid to bring his populist League party to power [Yara Nardi/Reuters]
    Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has brought down the government in a bid to bring his populist League party to power [Yara Nardi/Reuters]

    Italy's far-right League has filed a no-confidence motion to bring down its own governing coalition, a move that the party's populist chief, Matteo Salvini, hopes will trigger snap elections and install him as the nation's new leader.

    It is unclear when the motion will be debated, given parliament is in summer recess, but Salvini wants legislators to be summoned back to Rome for a vote as early as next week, saying the ruling coalition with anti-establishment 5-Star Movement was "unworkable" after months of open bickering between the two parties.

    "Too many 'no's are hurting Italy which instead needs to return to grow[th] and therefore head to the polls quickly," the League said in a statement on Friday, a day after Salvini pulled the plug on its coalition with the governing.

    "Those who waste time are harming the country and only thinking about holding onto their posts."

    Salvini's shock announcement on Thursday throws the eurozone's third-largest economy into deeper political uncertainty just as it was due to start 2020 budget preparations.

    The heads of political groups in Italy's Senate will meet on Monday to set a timetable for the no-confidence vote, the upper house press office said in a statement on Friday.

    An election could be held as early as October.

    Investors reacted by selling off Italian government bonds and stocks on Friday. Yields on 10-year bonds touched a five-week high, their biggest daily rise since May 2018. The Italian blue-chip index fell 2.3 percent, with banks leading the decline and helping push other European stock markets lower.

    Salvini said in a statement on Thursday he had told Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who belongs to neither coalition party, that the alliance with 5-Star had collapsed after barely a year in power and "we should quickly give the choice back to the voters".

    The interior minister, who is also deputy prime minister, said cabinet meetings were dogged by disputes.

    'Get off their rear ends'

    The head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, is the only person with the power to dissolve parliament, but he could first try to form a new government from within the existing legislature before resorting to elections.

    Salvini on Friday urged legislators to abandon their summer holidays. "There's nothing to say that we cannot make parliamentarians work in the middle of August. Lawmakers should get off their rear ends and work."

    The political crisis comes a time when millions of Italians are holidaying on the beach, and raised the prospect of the first autumn election in Italy's post-war history.

    "It's a mess basically," said Marta Bonora, a 21-year-old languages student in Milan. Salvini's crackdown on immigration means other problems are being ignored, she said.

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    The Spanish humanitarian ship Open Arms remains stuck in the Mediterranean Sea off Italy's southernmost island for an eighth day, with no European government offering safe harbour to the 121 migrants on board. The vessel faces a fine of up to one million euros ($1.1m) if it enters Italian waters.

    The NGO says Spain and Malta also have refused to open their ports

    Anna Scoccia, 63, who works at a newsstand in Rome, was also cynical: "This is all a big joke, it's another of Salvini's stunts to keep his popularity up. I don't believe we will go to elections but I am still terrified by what comes next."

    High-speed train spat

    Conte turned on Salvini late on Thursday, demanding in a televised statement that the League leader explained to Italians why he wanted to bring down the government.

    Until a few weeks ago, Salvini had repeatedly said that the government would last a full five-year term, but he brushed off Conte's criticisms and said 5-Star was holding up "the politically incorrect reforms that Italy needs" to boost its stagnant economy.

    Tensions came to a head on Wednesday when 5-Star and the League voted against each other in Parliament over the future of a project for a high-speed train link, the decades-long TAV project, with France.

    5-Star has more parliamentary seats than the League, but Salvini's party now has twice as much voter support, according to opinion polls, and it has recently threatened to try to capitalise on that surge in popularity with new elections.

    However, it remains to be seen if things will go as Salvini plans. Pushing the nation back into election mode in August is unusual and could be unpopular and risky.

    Mattarella may be unwilling to dissolve parliament before preparatory work in September for the 2020 budget, which must then be presented to parliament the following month.

    Italy, which has Europe's second-largest sovereign debt burden after Greece, has already angered the European Union with an expansionary 2019 budget and Salvini wants to make major tax cuts.

    "We're going to cut taxes for workers and businessmen," Salvini told a rally in the south-eastern Apulia region which was streamed live on Facebook on Friday evening.

    "The goal of the next government is to set a 15 percent tax rate for many Italians. If the European Union lets us do it so much the better, if not we'll do it anyway."

    Fitch Ratings is due to review its "BBB" rating on Italy's sovereign debt, which is two notches above junk status and carries a negative outlook.

    SOURCE: News agencies