Berlusconi and Salvini present united front as Italians prepare to vote

Berlusconi and Salvini present united front as Italians prepare to vote

SHARE


When Chi magazine published a photo of Matteo Salvini’s fiancée Elisa passionately kissing another man in Ibiza last year – the cover was emblazoned with the words “She loves another!” – it could have been shrugged off as typical tabloid fodder meant to embarrass a politician.

In Rome however, it was seen as something else: a hit job by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – who owns Chi – against Salvini, the far-right leader who is also Berlusconi’s key centre-right coalition partner as Italy heads to the polls in national elections next week.

Chi Magazine
(@chimagazine)

Ciao @matteosalvinimi, @ElisaIsoardi bacia un altro Matteo; @paolabarale e @Raz_Degan in love; #belen fra #iannone e #demartino. #SolosuChi pic.twitter.com/S8K6IF34j6


July 13, 2017

Berlusconi and Salvini – who has transformed Lega (League, formerly the Northern League) from a fringe party to a major political force – have since buried the hatchet, presenting a more unified image to voters their their rivals on the left. While Lega historically focused its vitriol on southern Italians, calling them lazy and a drag on the rest of the country, Salvini – who dropped Nord from Lega Nord to distance himself from the party’s secessionist roots – has even gained support in the south with his persistent attacks on African migrants, who he has claimed are invading Italy.

Now, with polls showing they have 37% support of the electorate, the centre-right coalition is within sight of securing an absolute majority in parliament. A victory could give Berlusconi, who is the leader of the Forza Italia party, though personally ineligible to serve, the power to choose the next prime minister of Italy.

But the Chi episode highlights the depth of the personal animosity, on top of serious policy differences, between the two men, which raises questions about who would be calling the shots in the event of victory. Will it be Berlusconi’s more moderate positions or Salvini’s far-right populism?

At a political rally in 2016, Salvini decried that the burgeoning Lega would never again “be a slave”, least of all to Berlusconi.

“Berlusconi is certainly in charge. He is still the master of the party. But depending on the election result, the relative strength on the centre-right will be decided by the vote,” said Stefano Stefanini, a consultant who previously served as Italy’s ambassador to Nato. “Should the League do particularly well, and better than expected, then obviously Salvini will not take instructions from Berlusconi.”

Despite his past foibles, tax crimes, and political failures, the man known as Il Cavaliere (the knight) has emerged in the race as a relatively moderate statesman whose resurgence in Italian politics following his resignation from high office in 2013 has been welcomed with relief in Brussels, where Berlusconi is seen as a predictable leader who can keep Italy’s populist and far right forces – especially the Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Salvini – in check.

Matteo Salvini has transformed Lega from being a fringe party to a major political force.



Matteo Salvini has transformed Lega from being a fringe party to a major political force. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

But there are questions about whether Berlusconi will be able to hold his own against Salvini. He is older and weaker than he once was, has avoided campaign rallies in favour of television appearances, and the current political environment is very different than the one he once mastered.

In the run-up to the election, Salvini has predicted that he would be named prime minister after the race. Under their “gentleman’s agreement”, if the centre-right win a majority of votes, whichever party comes out with the most votes within the coalition will name the next prime minister.

While voters who support Berlusconi seem confident that he can lead with the deft salesman’s touch he always has, he has never had to navigate such a complicated political landscape, in which an increasingly angry, anti-establishment and apparently anti-migrant fervour may drive the electorate to the far right.

Matteo Salvini and Elisa Isoardi pictured together at a book launch.



Matteo Salvini and Elisa Isoardi pictured together at a book launch. Photograph: Alamy

“We have never seen a case like this. Berlusconi as a spiritual guide, as a kingmaker but not a king,” says Francesco Galietti, the chief executive of consultancy Policy Sonar. “Can he remotely control political actors? Nobody knows. It will depend on the balance within the centre-right coalition.”

According to Italy’s notoriously unreliable polls, Forza Italia and the Lega are only between two to four percentage points apart within their alliance, but Berlusconi has claimed that Forza Italia has enough of a lead to deny Salvini a spot in Palazzo Chigi.

If Salvini does emerge from Sunday’s vote with an edge over the 81-year-old Berlusconi, who has suggested that he would potentially name Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, as a prime minister, it would have vast policy implications for Italy, the third largest economy in the eurozone.

Berlusconi is critical of Brussels but ultimately supports the EU. He is seen as a leader who would essentially favour the status quo on budget and pension rules and the enactment of jobs legislation signed by the current Democratic administration. While he is a personal friend of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Stefanini – the former Nato ambassador – argues that Berlusconi’s foreign policy has always fallen within the mainstream. Salvini, on the other hand, wants to scrap Italy’s retirement age, change pension and budget rules, and has called for upending Italy’s migration and asylum policies as part of his “Italians first” campaign.

While both Berlusconi and Salvini support lifting sanctions against Russia,Salvini has positioned himself with the far-right political forces across Europe who are aligned with the Kremlin, from Marine Le Pen in France to Viktor Orbán in Hungary.

“If we do get a centre-right government, it will be different than in 1994 or 2011. There was a hegemony there, which was that Forza was in charge and all the others were secondary. That is no longer the case,” says Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence. “Berlusconi is a one-man show who has always worked through compromise. Salvini sells himself as a disruptor.”

Even as Berlusconi has sought to make in-roads with Lega by forging ties to Salvini’s rivals within the party, Salvini’s rising star has not been diminished by the former premier. On the campaign trail, Elisa is still at his side.



Source link

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY