Italy’s political crisis came to a head this week as prime minister Giuseppe Conte resigned after far right interior minister Matteo Salvini pulled the plug on the coalition.
Salvini’s racist League party has been rising in opinion polls during months of squabbling over key policy decisions with the Five Star Movement (M5S). M5S and the League formed a coalition government less than 14 months ago.
Salvini hoped to trigger a snap election—more than three years early—as polls suggests the League and other far right parties could win. He wants a vote in October followed by him being crowned as prime minister.
Salvini has built up a thuggish reputation by pushing hard against migrants and Roma in order to divert attention away from the state of the economy.
Opinion polls suggest the League could form a coalition with the fascist Brothers of Italy and possibly Silvio Berlusconi's right wing Forza Italia.
But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini’s plan.
Talks between parties to try to form a new government began on Wednesday.
A coalition between M5S and the centrist Democratic Party (PD), the largest opposition party, is being discussed.
Romano Prodi, the former Italian prime minister who headed the European Commission, has also proposed a unity government from across the political spectrum. His plan would involve M5S, the PD and Forza Italia.
This coalition of “anyone but Salvini” would be pro-EU and pro-austerity. It would mark a return to the politics that Salvini has been able to build his racist, anti-establishment rhetoric on.
Salvini said he would get his supporters to “take to the streets” to stop a coalition or a technocratic government of bankers.
In better news, Salvini has faced protests as he has toured the country whipping up support for an election. “Down with Salvini!” - was the most common slogan.
But the protests have not been huge.
After Salvini visited the town hall in Catania on Sicily, an angry crowd prevented his car from leaving. Meanwhile, fights and angry arguments with League supporters took place in front of the city’s cathedral.
In Naples, Salvini had to be protected by a thick police cordon when hundreds of people blocked the streets.
A popular slogan was “Napoli non si lega”. It’s a play on words, where “Lega” refers to both the party name and the verb “tie up”, meaning, “Naples cannot be tied up”.
The alternative to the prospect of a far right Salvini government will come from building those protests and opposition to the League’s racist policies. It will not come from the neoliberal technocrats who want to pursue a politer version of the same policies.