Salvini, Five Star stake claim to form government in Italy

Leader of right-wing party Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi preparing to vote at a polling station in Milan on March 4, 2018.
Leader of right-wing party Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi preparing to vote at a polling station in Milan on March 4, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

ROME (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Mr Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-migrant League, said his centre-right coalition is in a position to form the next Italian government after winning the most votes in Sunday’s (March 4) election.

While the latest projections show his alliance with Mr Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is almost certain to fall short of an outright majority, Mr Salvini said he’s won the right to govern, and ruled out cutting a deal with other groups.

“The centre-right is the coalition that won, it’s the coalition that can govern,” Mr Salvini said in a televised press conference from Milan. He said he won’t consider “bizarre” coalitions with other groups.

Mr Matteo Renzi, the head of Italy’s Democratic Party, which suffered significant losses in the national election, has decided to resign, the Italian news agency Ansa said on Monday.

A Renzi spokesman said he knew nothing about such a decision.

Meanwhile, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio said his party’s success in the election gave him the right to govern Italy. Five Star is set to be the biggest single party in the next Parliament, while the League's centre-right coalition will command the largest number of lawmakers overall.

Forza Italia lawmaker Renato Brunetta earlier on Monday said that Mr Salvini has the right to lead the coalition after securing more votes than Mr Berlusconi’s group.

In the boastful news conference after the vote, Mr Salivni repeated his dire predictions for the euro common currency – comments that have scared markets and investors in the past.

“The common currency system is bound to come to an end,” Mr Salvini said. “Not because Salvini wants that but because that’s what facts, good sense and the real economy say. So, we want to be prepared when the moment comes.”

Mr Salvini thanked French right-wing figure Marine Le Pen for her support in the just-closed election campaign, adding that she would have been a great president for her country in last year’s elections.

The results of Sunday’s elections, after a free-for-all slugfest campaign, shocked many Italians, as the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni took less than 20 per cent of the vote.

President Sergio Mattarella will need to pick the person he believes can best form a government to provide Italy with much-needed stability.

Italy’s European Union partners will be closely watching as the nation lurches toward government talks and a coalition. Italy already has the slowest economic growth pace in the 19-nation euro area, with a further fall predicted for next year by the European Commission.

The anti-establishment groups surged in the balloting as voters punished the mainstream parties for years of economic decline, rising taxes and a wave of immigration, casting doubt on the country’s future political direction.

Projections based on ballot-counting on Monday morning suggested the two forces with the most gains, the euro-sceptic Five Star Movement and the anti-migrant League, could reach a majority in at least one of the houses of the Rome-based Parliament should they join forces.

The two parties could have a majority of about 345 seats combined in the 630-strong Lower House, according to projections from RAI television.

That would first require the League to break its electoral pact with the other centre-right parties. After that, weeks of horse-trading would be needed before a new government could be appointed, creating uncertainty in markets throughout the European Union. 

“I think that’s a possibility, perhaps even a probability,” Dr Nathalie Tocci, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, said in an interview in Rome, commenting on a possible government alliance between Five Star and the League.

“In terms of programmes, one could actually argue that there is more that separates Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia from the League than the Five Star Movement from the League.”