Italian League’s Matteo Salvini calls for new alliance based on US Republicans

The Italian League leader, Matteo Salvini, has proposed creating a rightwing political force styled on America’s Republican party in a move that threatens to spell the end of his tense partnership with his far-right sometime rival Giorgia Meloni.

Salvini’s League and other parties including the centre-left Democratic party and populist Five Star Movement that make up Italy’s broad ruling coalition have been left in disarray after failing to agree on a mutually acceptable candidate for head of state in last week’s presidential election, culminating with Sergio Mattarella, 80, being elected for a second term against his earlier expressed wishes.

His call was made in Il Giornale, the Silvio Berlusconi-owned newspaper, as he scrambles for survival under pressure from those within his own ranks over the presidential election debacle. He wrote that the rightwing parties that support Mario Draghi’s government could create a force modelled “on that of the American Republican party” and will reportedly meet Berlusconi, the Forza Italia leader, to discuss the proposal.

Salvini’s ultimate endorsement of Mattarella for president infuriated Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italia, which allies with the League and Forza Italia in elections but unlike them stayed out of Draghi’s government. She accused them of “betrayal” for their behind-the-scenes dealings with their coalition partners.

Her party has steadily grown to overtake the League in opinion polls since the formation of Draghi’s government a year ago.

Italian media described Salvini’s proposal as signalling a potential “divorce” with Brothers of Italy. Salvini and Meloni have in the past put on a united front, but the latter’s growing influence has intensified competition between the pair for leadership within the rightwing alliance as they eye general elections in spring 2023.

Meloni said the rightwing bloc needed to be “refounded” while at the same time suggesting it would be “better to go it alone than in bad company”. Brothers of Italy currently polls as the second biggest party in Italy, behind the centre-left Democratic party.

“Salvini is afraid of Meloni,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political science professor at Luiss University in Rome. “But the real issue is technical and goes back to the electoral system – under the present system, Meloni and Salvini would have to run together.”

The government is expected to hold a debate about Italy’s electoral system later this year, which could result in it reverting back to proportional representation, eliminating the necessity at present for coalitions to be formed before the vote.

D’Alimonte said that Salvini is “scrambling to find a way out of a corner” but that he didn’t expect Brothers of Italy to gain much higher than its current 20.5% rating in the polls. Unless the political system changes, they will most likely stick together, he suggested. “They are trying to divorce but divorce is not guaranteed.”

In his call for a new rightwing grouping, Salvini posited “a political space where we find hospitality for the various souls who have sensibilities of an alternative culture to leftwing progressivism”.

Mattia Diletti, a political professor at Rome’s Sapienza University, doesn’t expect Salvini’s proposal to come to fruition, adding that the rightwing alliance will probably patch up their differences.

“We know from the past that in the end they always find an agreement, as they know they need each other when it’s time to collect votes," Ha aggiunto. “In the meantime, Meloni can gain as she’s the only clear opposition to the government. But this 20% or so is nothing if she doesn’t have an alliance with the League.”

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