Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Italy: Conte won, Salvini lost

  • The formerly unknown Giuseppe Conte (c) has eclipsed Matteo Salvini as Italy's most popular politician (Photo: quirinale.it)

After five days of intense negotiations between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Democratic Party (PD), president Sergio Mattarella decided to give prime minister Giuseppe Conte a second mandate.

It is now up to Conte to choose his ministers and to write a programme for a new government.

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After the dramatic collapse of the first Conte government, at the head of a coalition between the 5MS and League parties, Mattarella gave M5S and PD five days to find an agreement for a new coalition.

If they had not reached an agreement before the deadline, which expired on Wednesday (28 August), Matteralla would have called new elections in October or November.

The new coalition between archenemies M5S and PD remains a surprise.

When the League party leader, Matteo Salvini, pulled out of government last week, it was former PD prime minister Matteo Renzi who reached out to M5S, arguing that snap elections would be a disaster for Italy.

Remaining obstacles

Although PD leader Nicola Zingaretti and M5S leader Luigi Di Maio agreed to work together under the leadership of Conte, a few important questions remain to be answered.

Firstly, there is the question of Di Maio.

M5S says he ought to remain deputy prime minister, but PD claims this position should be theirs, as they see the formally independent prime minister Conte as a M5S creature.

Zingaretti also said PD wants the new government to signal a break with the past one, while Di Maio as deputy prime minister would look like a copy of the former administration.

A second obstacle is the so-called Rousseau vote.

M5S is founded on the idea that its members should have a say in all important decisions of the party. That is why they want them to vote on the coalition with PD on their internal voting system, called Rousseau.

The PD, a traditional party, think this is a dangerous move which risks the stability of the country. Many members of M5S still see the PD as the main enemy and even the very reason why they joined politics - to fight the establishment.

The government programme could also prove tricky to agree.

The PD wants to break with the hard-line position of the Conte I government on migration.

But also on economics both parties have important disagreements. One of them is building a high-speed train link from Lyon to Turin, favoured by PD but opposed by M5S.

These are the reasons why both parties also have to face internal resistance against the new coalition.

A senior PD politician and former minister of industry, Carlo Calenda, for instance, already announced that he was leaving the party.

In his farewell letter, he wrote that PD has "nothing in common" with M5S, which is, in his view, undermining representative democracy and flirting with populism.

Salvini gambled and lost

Meanwhile, if there is one politician who did not expect this surprise turn of events, then it is Salvini himself.

There is not much doubt the resigning minister of interior and deputy prime minister was the most powerful politician in the Conte I government.

As opinion polls predicted a large electoral victory for the League, and even a possible majority of the seats in parliament, he started dreaming of absolute power.

So, Salvini decided to blow up the government.

He was so convinced that snap elections were inevitable that he already started campaigning on the crowded beaches of Italy this summer.

But it was precisely the possibility of a majority of the League and Salvini as prime minister with 'absolute power' that made M5S and PD decide to form their unlikely new coalition.

On top of that, it is Conte, and not Salvini, who is now the most popular politician in Italy.

Italians seem to prefer the stability of this formerly unknown law professor over the unpredictability and melodrama of Salvini.

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