Italy’s League Surges Into Top Spot as Ally Five Star Plummets
(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s League soared ahead of its rivals to become the country’s biggest political force even as Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini pledged he wouldn’t seek a government reshuffle or demand more ministries in the ruling coalition.
The rightist, anti-migrant League won 34.4% of the vote, double its showing in last year’s general election, based on near-final results. Coalition partner and sometime rival the Five Star Movement saw its support slide to 17%, as the Democratic Party, shellacked in last year’s vote, moved into second place at 22.8%.
The performance by Salvini, a brash 46-year-old, gives him the clout to start calling the shots in the populist administration, after the League scored twice as strongly as Five Star. But Salvini stopped short of ditching his ally, saying at party headquarters in his hometown Milan that the coalition partners are friends and will continue working together.
Instead, Salvini set his sights on a post on the executive European Commission, with whom he tussled over the 2019 budget last year. “We have names and surnames,” Salvini told La7 television. “We’ll ask for a commissioner for economics and certainly not philosophy: trade, agriculture or competition. And as the League we’ll have more of a voice.”
The League soared from the 17% it got in last year’s general elections, and the 6% in the 2014 European Parliament vote. But as mainstream parties across Europe largely held their ground against the populist assault, Salvini may struggle to forge the pan-European alliance of 12 nationalist parties he campaigned for, including France’s National Rally and Germany’s Alternative for Germany.
“So much for Salvini’s pan-European ambitions,” said Sofia Ventura, professor of political science at the University of Bologna. “Italy appears to be an exception with populists advancing, but now his hopes of leading an international nationalist pact are looking pretty weak.”
Five Star, still in theory the coalition government’s senior partner, has itself to blame for the League’s leapfrogging it in the European vote, Ventura said. “Five Star has changed tack too often, it shifted to the left and that hasn’t convinced people,” she said.
Salvini had framed the vote as a referendum “between a free Europe and an Islamic state based on insecurity and fear.’’ In the last weeks of the campaign, Salvini lashed out at the European Union’s budget rules, worrying financial markets with a threat to breach limits on government deficits and state debt.
--With assistance from Lorenzo Totaro.
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