The disputes within the Italian government are threatening to escalate. Lega and the Five-Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle or M5S for short) were from the outset unequal bedfellows. The temptations of power and the joint stance rejecting the EU fiscal rules brought the two parties together after the parliamentary elections in spring 2018. Since then, the ruptures within the alliance have grown ever greater. Only a few weeks ago, the finances of the highly indebted City of Rome were the subject of conflict, and now the political dispute is centring ever more strongly on the person of Armando Siri, Secretary of State for Transport, who is accused of taking bribes. The leader of M5S, Luigi di Maio, has called for Siri to resign, Lega boss Salvini has hitherto stood by his party colleague. Prime Minister Conte, who has thus far tended to act as the intermediary between the coalition parties, is now backing di Maio’s demand.
Even if the current dispute can be solved, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the pan-populist alliance will not hold in the long term. Minister of the Interior Salvini may therefore announce the end of the coalition on the heels of the European elections, which would probably lead to a new general election being called. Opinion polls suggest that the Lega could emerge the single strongest party, while by contrast M5S would hardly attract more than 20% of the votes (G1) – a decrease in its share of the vote by more than 10 percentage points compared to the last general election. New elections would therefore primarily be in Salvini’s interest, although he would then have to rely on right-wing coalition partners. Together with Forza Italia and the right-wing nationalist FdI such an alliance may be able to claim about a 47% share of the votes. Thus, an absolute majority of the seats in both houses would be possible, but by no means certain.
In other words, the political uncertainty in Italy looks set to continue to increase. That said, early elections could also potentially have some positive effects. For example, a possible right-wing populist alliance would not implement some of the fiscally relevant reforms currently on the table, or might annul them, which would presumably have a favourable medium-term impact on the state of the Italian budget. Yet we cannot expect to see any new political configuration emerge in Italy until after the European elections.