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POLITICS

Italy’s League opens the door to a deal with Five Stars

Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini on Wednesday offered the first signs of compromise in the battle for power following Italy's inconclusive March 4th election, revealing that he was ready to work with anyone to form a government – except the vanquished Democratic Party.

Italy's League opens the door to a deal with Five Stars
Matteo Salvini (L) and Luigi Di Maio. Photos: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Previously bullish Salvini, leader of the far-right League that heads the right-wing coalition which won the most votes in last week's election, told reporters he was the right's prime ministerial candidate but admitted that he “doesn't yearn to be premier at all costs”.

The 45-year-old also refused point blank to work with the ruling Democratic Party (PD), whose centre-left coalition slumped to third on less than 23 percent of the vote and with whom Salvini has frequently battled over immigration.

READ ALSO: Understanding the election result, and what happens next

“We will work in the coming weeks to find a majority, and what I can exclude is that the losers, the PD… could be part of this majority. We will talk about everything else in the next few weeks,” Salvini said.

That dismissal of the PD leaves the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), the largest single party in Italy after picking up around 33 percent of the vote, as the only possible partner with whom the right could realistically form a government.

Salvini called M5S leader Luigi Di Maio on Wednesday evening, and told press the two had agreed on the need to discuss the Speakers of the two chambers of Italian parliament.

In his account of the call, published on the M5S blog on Thursday, Di Maio said he had told Salvini that the M5S would insist on choosing the speaker of the lower house. That appointment is separate from the formation of a government, he added.

The two leaders acknowledged each other's election success, Di Maio said, but have not scheduled a meeting – for now.

'Don't want chaos'

The League is also the only party with which the M5S can form a majority, as the PD have decided to stay in opposition and have repeatedly called on the M5S and the League to work towards a government of their own.

Di Maio immediately claimed victory in the aftermath of the election despite his party gaining fewer votes than Salvini's coalition. Speaking to the same international media on Tuesday he lamented the lack of proposals to have come the M5S's way from other political parties since the election.

He also said that he would not change his party's manifesto pledges nor accept a different ministerial team from the one he presented before the election.

Talking to Five Star Movement voters in neglected suburban Naples
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

However on Wednesday 31-year-old Di Maio said to business group Confcommercio that he didn't “want to leave the country in chaos,” and that he thought he could help deliver a government quicker than the six months it took Germany to form the grand coalition that was sworn in on Wednesday.

Like Di Maio, Salvini wants any new government to be guided by the promises made during the campaign, which for the right includes a flat tax of 15 percent and the creation of “a less bureaucratic and more federal Italy”.

“I'll do everything that is humanly and democratically possible to respect the mandate given to me by the voters,” Salvini said. “If from this starting point there are other suggestions we're happy to listen to them.”

Russophile

Salvini said that he would not break with his coalition in order to form a government with the M5S, meaning that Di Maio would find himself negotiating with a four-party group that commands more seats than him and contains Silvio Berlusconi, who is hostile to the M5S.

“I opened the door just to kick them out,” Berlusconi said to reporters on Wednesday. That would inevitably lead to compromise over key policy issues and the team of ministers he presented before the election.

Salvini also outlined the Russophile, eurosceptic politics that were once characteristic of the M5S but have been rejected by Di Maio since he took the reigns of the party last year. He said that the euro “was, and is a mistake” and that sanctions against Russia were “a folly”.

READ ALSO:

Italy's stock market slides after uncertain election result
However he said that he would revise relations should “clear proof” emerge of Russia's involvement in the nerve gas poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. Britain says Russia's involvement is “highly likely” and on Wednesday expelled 23 Russian diplomats.

“It's 2018. You can't go around poisoning people,” Salvini said. Salvini also alluded to the M5S's universal income proposal, which would guarantee 780 euros ($960) a month for the country's poorest, as being part of a “cultural difference” between the two political groups.

“We want to cultivate work while — at least by what I read — their proposals are based more on assistance than development,” he said. “But with the PD out of the way, anything is possible.”

By Terry Daley

For members

ITALIAN ELECTIONS

How does Italy’s overseas constituencies system work in elections?

Italy is one of a small number of countries whose citizens living overseas have their own dedicated parliamentarians. How does the system work - and how did Italians abroad vote in the 2022 elections?

How does Italy's overseas constituencies system work in elections?

How does the system work?

The overseas constituencies system was introduced via a 2001 law that gave Italians living abroad the right to vote by postal ballot for the first time. It was first used to elect parliamentarians in 2006.

There are four overseas constituencies in Italian parliament: Europe, including Russia, Turkey and Greenland; North and Central America; South America; and Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica.

Each constituency gets at least one MP and one senator, with the remaining MPs divided up proportionally according to how many Italians are living in each territory in the election year in question.

READ ALSO: Who can vote in Italy’s elections?

Currently Europe has three MPs, North and Central America two, South America two, and Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica one.

Voters registered overseas are sent their ballot papers by their local consulate in advance of the election, along with instructions on how to fill them out and the deadline for returning them.

Italy isn’t the only country with overseas constituencies: Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, France, Italy, Mozambique, Panama, Portugal, Romania and Tunisia all have similar systems.

How many overseas parliamentarians are there?

Until 2020, when Italians voted to reduce their number of elected representatives by about one third, there were 18 overseas parliamentarians (12 MPs and six senators).

As of the 2022 elections, there are 12 overseas parliamentarians in all – eight MPs and four senators. That accounts for two percent of the total number of seats in Italian parliament.

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

Italian ballot papers.

Italians living abroad can vote for their own representatives by postal ballot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

With 100,000 Italians emigrating every year, there are double the number of Italians living abroad in 2022 (around 6 million) compared to 2003, according to Il Sole 24 Ore.

This means roughly nine percent of Italian citizens now live abroad – which has led some campaigners to call for an increase in the number of seats allocated to overseas constituents.

What do they do?

Just like those at home, overseas parliamentarians represent the interests of their constituents. In 2007 former South America deputy and senator Ricardo Merlo founded the political party MAIE (the Associative Movement of Italians Abroad) which is dedicated to the needs of Italians abroad, particularly in South America.

Overseas parliamentarians must reside in the constituency they represent – which is why Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni’s pick for South America senator, former F1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi, hurriedly moved his official residence from Miami to Sao Paolo in August 2022 to run in the latest election (he was unsuccessful).

The fact that they represent the interests of Italians spread over such a wide geographic area (four continents, in the case of Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica) has led some to argue that overseas parliamentarians perform a largely symbolic, rather than practical, function.

EXPLAINED: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

The need to collect votes across such a large number of jurisdictions has also led to allegations – and sometimes findings – of fraud. In 2021, South America senator Adriano Cario’s vote was invalidated after a handwriting analysis concluded multiple ballots in his favour had been filled out by the same person.

Despite all this, when then-prime minister Matteo Renzi held a referendum in 2016 on whether Italians abroad should have their senate seats taken away, almost 60 percent of Italians voted against the idea. Ironically, the majority of Italians overseas – 65 percent – voted in favour of abolishing their own senate representation.

President of the Italian Senate Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati (C) reads the results of the vote in the Senate hall after a vote of confidence to the prime minister at Palazzo Madama in Rome on July 14, 2022.

The new Italian parliament will have to convene no later than October 15th. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

How did Italians abroad vote in the latest elections?

As was the case in the 2016 referendum, Italians abroad voted differently to their home country counterparts.

28 percent voted for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), 26 percent for the hard-right centrodestra coalition, 13 percent for MAIE, and 8.6 percent for the populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), with the remainder going to a large number of smaller parties.

That’s in contrast to Italy, where 44 percent of votes went to the centrodestra, 26 percent to the centre-left coalition, and 15 percent to M5S.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

The final result was seven PD parliamentarians (four MPs, three senators), two parliamentarians for the centrodestra alliance (both MPs), two for MAIE (one MP, one senator), and one for M5S.

Europe now has one PD, one centrodestra and one M5S deputy and one PD senator; North and Central America have one PD and one centrodestra deputy and one PD senator; South America has one PD and one MAIE deputy and one MAIE senator; and Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica have one PD deputy and one PD senator.

Turnout in 2022 was the lowest it has ever been among Italians abroad, with just 27 percent of those eligible bothering to vote – a drop of 3.4 percent on the 2018 elections.

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