Italy’s Populist Government Is About To Collapse, Here’s What Happening

The Italian flag flies over a government building.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

The populist wave that swept through Europe in 2016 and beyond may soon face its first big defeat as the government of Italy continues to move toward collapse, per The Washington Post. Italy’s government was Western Europe’s first fully populist government. However, it is since devolved into conflict as the two major populist parties — the progressive Five Star Coalition and the conservative League — were unable to function as a majority.

In light of the gridlock, far-right leader Matteo Salvini wants to dissolve parliament and hold new elections. The move might be a calculated risk on Salvini’s part. The current party in power was the liberal populist party, and it has suffered in popularity during its tenure over the past 14 months.

Meanwhile, Salvini’s popularity has only grown, spurred on by Trump-like rejection of immigration and a popular social media presence.

The tensions hit a breaking point this week after the two parties could not come to an agreement on a proposed rail between Turin, Italy, and Lyon, France. The League is for the proposal, as many of its members are situated in the north and would benefit. Five Star Coalition, however, finds much of its support in the south and has claimed the proposed rail would be environmentally and financially reckless.

“Let’s quickly give the choice back to voters,” Salvini said, explaining his position on calling for new elections. He has since notified Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of his desire to dissolve parliament; Conte, meanwhile, has hit back with claims that the discord in Rome is Salvini’s fault.

“It will be up to the minister of the interior in his role as leader of the League to explain to the country and to justify to the voters who had believed in the prospect for change the reasons that lead him to interrupt things before it’s time,” Conte said.

Some politicos have hypothesized that Salvini, who currently holds the post of interior minister, is using the move to consolidate his power. Elections would likely favor Italy’s shift rightward and could even spell a prime minister position for Salvini.

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“Salvini is gambling — there is no question he is gambling now,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political science professor at Luiss Guido Carli University. “If he feels he can’t get early elections, he will backtrack” and stick with the coalition.

matteo salvini with microphones
Matteo Salvini during a press conference. Emanuele Cremaschi / Getty Images

However, Salvini’s move could easily come to naught if President Sergio Mattarella decides against dissolving parliament. One aspect reportedly weighing on the president’s mind is whether to start a campaign frenzy in August, when many Italians are on vacation.