Italian nationalist leader Salvini, surging in the polls, demands snap election

Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the country's largest nationalist party, demanded a snap election Thursday - a move that nearly certainly dooms the fragile governing coalition and could see Salvini's party move from a coalition partner to Italy's sole governing party.

Salvini, who leads the far-right, anti-immigrant League party, has nearly doubled his consensus to around 30 percent since June 2018, when he formed a coalition government with the populist Five-Star Movement, which has since halved its support to around 17 percent.

With parliament in summer recess, Salvini has summoned all League lawmakers back to Rome on Monday and is pushing for a vote on the motion as early as next week, while opposition parties would prefer to wait until August 19-20.

The interior minister, who is also deputy prime minister, said cabinet meetings were dogged by disputes.

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has held several rounds of talks to try to ease the crisis in the 14-month old government, angrily called on Salvini to justify his move.

Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini embarked on a southern tour to rally support on Saturday, demanding an election date be set after he pulled out of the coalition government, plunging the country into a political crisis.

"Government crises in Italy are complicated, especially at this time of the year".

Conte, who is not affiliated with either party, has accused Salvini of wanting an early vote to allow the League to profit from now favorable voter sentiment, with opinion polls showing the party as being likely to comfortably win any election in the coming months.

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It is not clear if and when a new election would be held.

The developments follow Salvini's demand for the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, to reconvene parliament to collapse the administration. "I don't believe we will go to elections but I am still terrified by what comes next".

"Too many noes are bad for Italy, which needs to grow and, therefore, to have new elections soon", Salvini reportedly said.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's League party, on August 8 withdrew support for the governing coalition with the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and called for fresh elections.

For a year now, the League's popularity has soared in opinion polls, local and regional balloting and the European Parliament elections earlier this year.

Tensions came to a head on Wednesday when 5-Star and the League voted against each other in parliament over the future of a project for a high-speed train link with France.

Shrugging off frowns from high-brow commentators and opponents, Salvini has made the beaches his political stage, a ideal venue for his down-market, "man-of-the-people" persona - and the more crowded and less exclusive they are the better. "Of a government of 'No.' This government in reality has always spoken little, and worked a lot", Conte said. "If the European Union lets us do it so much the better, if not we'll do it anyway", he said.

A snap election would be only be called if it proves impossible to form a new government without it.

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