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Italy plunged into crisis as Prime Minister resigns after collapse of coalition with far-right

Giuseppe Conte’s resignation came under pressure from Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League party, which has been soaring in opinion polls.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks to the Senate this afternoon.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks to the Senate this afternoon.
Image: Facebook

Updated Aug 20th 2019, 3:15 PM

ITALY’S PRIME MINISTER Giuseppe Conte is to resign following the collapse of his party’s coalition with the far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini told the country’s Senate this afternoon that he would submit his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella.

Conte was speaking following a week of fallout from Salvini’s dramatic decision to back out of the alliance on 8 August, plunging the eurozone’s third-largest economy into turmoil.

Salvini’s anti-immigrant League party has been soaring in opinion polls during months of squabbling over key policy decisions with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, hopes to trigger early elections, which polls suggest his League party and right-wing allies could win.

In his speech, Conte said that Salvini was “irresponsible” to spark the political crisis by pulling the plug on the governing coalition.

“It is irresponsible to initiate a government crisis,” Conte said, “it shows personal and party interests.”

Salvini “violated the solemn promise he took when the government began that if there were differences they should be discussed in good faith and with loyal collaboration,” Conte said as League Senators booed and hissed.

“Making citizens vote is the essence of democracy, asking them to vote every year is irresponsible,” Conte added.

“I heard you calling for ‘full powers’ and invoke (demonstrations in) the piazzas to support you, which worries me.”

His resignation puts an end to Italy’s 65th post-war government, just 14 months after coming to power, and officially open the way for consultations to find a replacement.

“The craziest crisis in the world,” commented an editorial in La Stampa newspaper.

Italy: Cabinet Press Conference in Rome Italian premier Giuseppe Conte (left) sits next to Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (right) last year. Source: PA Images

Snap election

The political crisis has raised concerns about the Italian economy, whose debt ratio at 132% of gross domestic product is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.

Since the unwieldy government was formed in June 2018, uncertainty under the coalition has cost the country an extra €5 billion in interest on its debt, according to one financial daily.

A snap election – more than three years early – could come at the end of October and allow Salvini to capitalise on polls suggesting the League might get 36-38% of votes.

Salvini could be crowned prime minister with the League potentially in coalition with the anti-immigration, anti-LGBT Fratelli d’Italia, and possibly Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia.

Ever present on social media, Salvini has been taking his message to the beaches at the height of the summer holiday season, promising to cut taxes, to block migrants from Italian ports, and to complete a high-speed rail link to France.

But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini’s bid for power, with a coalition between the M5S and the opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) being discussed.

While there is bad blood between the two parties with both trading insults in the past years, M5S is languishing in the polls and wants to avoid an early election.

‘Untrustworthy traitor’

Romano Prodi, the former centre-left premier and ex-president of the European Commission, has also proposed a unity government from different parts of the political spectrum involving M5S, the PD and Forza Italia.

After a year of highly critical anti-EU rhetoric from Salvini, Prodi said the new coalition would allow a “reintegration of Italy as an active member of the European Union”.

Caught on the back foot, Salvini has sought to re-establish some ties and said he would be willing to back a M5S proposal to cut the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605, but only if new elections were then swiftly held.

He was furious at the idea of being squeezed out by a M5S-PD alliance, saying he would get his supporters to “peacefully take to the streets” if it came about.

Salvini has also softened his tone regarding the PM, saying:

Conte remains my prime minister and my phone is always on.

But M5S founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, on Sunday gathered senior figures at his country house and rejected talk of reconciliation with Salvini, whom he reportedly described as an “untrustworthy traitor”.

The coalition government has long been mired with tensions, particularly since the League emerged as Italy’s biggest party in European elections in May.

The usually soft-spoken Conte last week said that Salvini was “obsessed” with immigration, calling on his deputy to let minor migrants rescued in the Mediterranean disembark from a charity vessel anchored near the southern island of Lampedusa.

 © AFP 2019.

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