Italy's Populist Government Comes To An End

After fourteen months, the populist government of Italy comes to an end.  Berlin and Paris must be rejoicing that Matteo Salvini, who has been a thorn on their side, will be leaving government. Within hours of Premier Giuseppe Conte announcing his resignation, the ONG ship Open Arms was able to dock on Italian shores and deliver its merchandise of desperate Africans for the oligarchs to exploit. More ships are sure to dock in the coming days.  

Salvini was visibly shaken as Conte used his speech before the Italian Senate to unleash a long barrage of insults against him. It must have been difficult to learn that someone despises you in such a public manner. Conte may have had the cathartic moment he has been looking for but it will cost him and his party, the Five Star Movement (M5S) in the long run.

Not only did Salvini have to endure venom from his former coalition partners, he also has been criticized by friends and allies for his handling of the government crisis. Individuals who had pushed him to “staccare la spina” (pull the plug) on the government for months, now were declaring that Salvini has made a fatal mistake. Perhaps Salvini had counted on Matteo Renzi to, once again, place a veto on an alliance between his party and M5S as he did fifteen months ago. However, Conte’s speech indicates that there was no possibility for the Lega/M5S partnership to last another four months, much less another four years.

What happens next? The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, will begin his constitutionally required consultations with the various party leaders in Parliament to determine whether there is a majority to form another government. If there is no majority, new elections will be held sometime in the fall. 

The only possible majority in Parliament is an alliance between the Democrat  Party (PD) and the M5S. But even if this alliance were to happen, I doubt it seriously it will last. The M5S has repeatedly demonstrated it cannot govern. Whether it is as mayors, regional governors or ministers, the M5S turn at the wheel begins with great hope and always ends in disappointment.

Although a PD/M5S alliance is the most likely outcome, it is not a given. Tomorrow, the PD will hold a meeting to resolve its own internal differences.  The party leader, Nicola Zingaretti, had initially indicated he would prefer to hold elections. But former party leader Renzi, who still holds a great deal of influence among PD members of Parliament, wants to stay away from the polls. (I will update this post after an announcement is made as to which route PD will take).

Another possibility is for M5S parliamentary members to defect in enough numbers to prevent a majority from being formed. The M5S is not a traditional political party. It has essentially been an electoral vehicle for voters on the Left and Right to register their unhappiness with the political system. It has no coherent political philosophy or program. Their unusual nature has brought them electoral success, however, once in power they are always hopelessly split to the point of paralysis.

UPDATE: PD agrees to negotiate a long term government with M5S based on five conditions which can be summarized as more EU, more failed neoliberal policies. Zingaretti’s decision to back off his earlier demand of holding elections indicates that M5S have been working behind the scenes to bring down the government. What we are seeing is pure theater. An agreement is probably already in place. However, the public is much more sophisticated and sees through the machinations. Since its inception, M5S has been able to play both sides of the EU issue - one day in favor of abolishing the Euro, the next defending it. Finally, they have settle for a political identity: they are globalists. Salvini may have lost the battle but he will win the war.

Stay tuned...