Matteo Salvini suffered a defeat in his plans for early elections on Tuesday, after Italy’s opposition parties and his coalition partner the Five Star Movement united against the interior minister’s League party and its allies to vote down an immediate vote of no confidence.
Senators were summoned back to Rome from summer recess on Tuesday to vote on the timing of a no-confidence motion lodged by Mr Salvini’s rightwing League against Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister.
Mr Salvini’s popularity has soared since he came to power 14 months ago. With his party polling around 38 per cent, he wants to seize the momentum with elections in October, more than three years before the end of the legislature.
“What is more beautiful, more democratic, more dignified than to give the choice back to the people,” Mr Salvini told the Senate in a speech before Tuesday’s vote.
The confidence vote will now take place on the 20 August, after the Ferragosto public holiday. Mr Conte must offer his resignation to the Italian president if the vote succeeds.
Mr Salvini’s path to autumn elections was looking less certain after the vote on Tuesday, as the collaboration between the Five Star and the Democratic party suggested that an alternative majority to the government could potentially be found after the confidence vote.
At a press conference on Tuesday former premier Matteo Renzi, of the Democratic party, said that Mr Salvini “had discovered he is in the minority”.
“It is clear that his reputation as an invincible man is sinking,” he said. “Salvini must resign and return to his mojito,” he said, in reference to Mr Salvini’s habit of campaigning on the beach.
Mr Renzi has proposed an alliance for a caretaker government with Five Star that could pass an autumn budget making crucial spending cuts, thus avoiding a VAT rise while remaining within EU spending rules.
Other senior Democratic party members, such as former culture minister Dario Franceschini, appealed for a more ambitious alliance with Five Star that would last for the rest of the current parliamentary term, rather than a few months.
The greatest obstacle to an alliance between the Democratic party and Five Star is Mr Renzi himself. Mr Renzi was forced to resign the premiership in 2016 when he lost a referendum on his government’s reforms, and his proposal risks deepening already bitter divisions within the Democratic party.
Mr Salvini dismissed the proposed alliance. “Renzi returning to government thanks to the Five Stars? That’s a betrayal of the Italian people, that’s shameful,” he said on Tuesday.
Luigi Di Maio, leader of Five Star, said he would “not sit down with Renzi” but did not rule out a partnership with the ruling wing of the Democratic party led by Nicola Zingaretti.
Giovanni Orsina, professor of political science at Luiss University, said that to create a coalition between Five Star and the Democratic party would be challenging.
“Tonight’s vote was an anti-Salvini vote that shows there is a majority that wants to find an alternative majority. So there could be a majority for a government in theory, but the Democratic party are very divided on early elections. Renzi wants to return to a central role in politics and so is styling himself as the anti-Salvini. But Zingaretti would prefer to return to a vote to reorganise the party in his favour.”
Mr Salvini had attempted to dismantle the alliance against him before the vote by offering an olive branch to “his friends the Five Star”. He said the League would support a planned vote to cut the number of parliamentarians by a third, a key Five Star reform, before pressing ahead to elections.
Mr di Maio accepted the concession but said he “preferred friends who are loyal”.
Mr Salvini had faced a further setback earlier in the day when Silvio Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia ruled out running under the same banner as the League in elections, saying it wanted to keep its own identity.
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