News Analysis: Salvini mulling new elections, but time is running short

Time is running out for new elections to be held this year in Italy, analysts said, though Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is reported to still be considering the move.

All eyes are on Salvini as he mulls over the possibility of pulling the League — the nationalist, euro-skeptic political party he heads — out of the coalition supporting the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. By withdrawing the League’s support, Salvini could make the government collapse, possibly forcing new elections.

But such a move would be risky, analysts said. Italian President Sergio Mattarella could ask the League’s coalition partner, the populist and anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, to try to cobble together enough support to form its own government without the League. Or Mattarella could form a technocrat government until new elections are held next year.

Even if new elections are called quickly, it is not guaranteed the League would do well.

“Historically speaking, the party that makes a government fall is punished if there are new elections soon after,” Nicola Pasini, a political scientist with the State University of Milan, told Xinhua. “If they force the government to collapse, Salvini and the League could be punished at the polls.”

The latest developments follow a series of policy and position clashes between the League and the Five-Star Movement. The latest is over the ascension of former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to be the 14th head of the European Commission. The League’s members in the European Parliament opposed the election of von der Leyen, while the Five-Star Movement supported her.

They also come as the League’s level of support in Italy is nearing an all-time high.

The party earned 17 percent of the vote in last year’s general election, compared with 33 percent for the Five-Star Movement. The percentages were almost revered in elections for European Parliament last month. With the League earning 34 percent of the votes cast compared to 17 percent for the Five-Star Movement.

Six weeks after the European Parliament vote, opinion polls are showing the League’s support level in the range of 37 to 39 percent. But the percentage of Italians who would like to see new elections remain low, around one out of five.

“There is no doubt that Salvini and the League are emboldened by their rising support level,” said Maria Rossi from the opinion polling firm, adding “But even as the support for the party rises, the support for new elections remains relatively low.”

According to Franco Pavoncello, president of John Cabot University in Rome and a frequent political commentator, even if Salvini decides to push for new elections, time is running short.

“It would be very difficult to organize national elections for September, which is just a few weeks away,” Pavoncello told Xinhua. The vote could not take place later than that since the government will have to finalize its 2020 budget and get approval from the European Commission headed by von der Leyen.

“I think the League will come up with a compromise that will shift some ministries around and then elections will come next year,” Pavoncello said.