ROME — Matteo Salvini effectively pulled the plug on Italy’s coalition government on Thursday evening, prompting the prime minister to trigger a process that could lead to a snap election.
In a statement to the press, Salvini, the interior minister and one of two deputy prime ministers, said: “Let’s immediately head back to parliament to ascertain this government no longer has a majority as appears to be clear from yesterday’s [Senate vote].”
Salvini was referring to a parliamentary vote on Wednesday when his far-right League voted with the main opposition parties to reject a motion by its coalition partner the 5Star Movement to block a high-speed link between Turin and Lyon.
Salvini’s move prompted Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to officially trigger a process that could lead to snap elections as early as October.
In a late night address to the press, Conte said he called the speakers of the two houses of parliament, asking them to summon lawmakers back from recess for a confidence vote.
Salvini issued a statement saying “there is no alternative to the current government, the only alternative is the polls.”
“Salvini came to speak to me to let me know he is planning to head back to the polls to capitalize his current popularity in a snap election,” Conte said.
“I told Salvini his move would jeopardize important reforms my government had initiated.”
5Stars leader Luigi Di Maio, the other deputy prime minister, sided with Conte, saying “Salvini made the government collapse to capitalize on his popularity.”
Earlier on Thursday, Di Maio said in a Facebook post: “We are ready to head back to the polls, the League mocked Italians.”
A government split won’t be official until a formal act takes place such as a no-confidence motion, the withdrawal of ministers from the Cabinet or the prime minister’s resignation.
ITALY NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
It will then be up to President Sergio Mattarella to decide whether an election takes place immediately or if a caretaker government is installed to pass the 2020 budget in the fall.
A government collapse would cause major uncertainty for the European Union; Italy is the third-largest economy in the eurozone and is the EU’s fourth most populous member. Italy has also not yet nominated its candidate for the next European Commission.
Earlier Thursday, Conte met Mattarella — who headed back to Rome from his summer residence for the talks — to discuss the situation. Two government officials said the prime minister did not offer his resignation or suggest a government reshuffle at the meeting. But soon after that meeting, Salvini issued a statement saying “there is no alternative to the current government, the only alternative is the polls.”
At a rally in Pescara later on Thursday night, Salvini mentioned the likely government crisis only at the end of his hourlong speech, in which he broke down into tears at the end.
“If one believes in his own ideas, he has no fear … and I am not afraid of going at it alone,” he said, hinting at a general election.
He also reiterated his previous statement that League lawmakers are ready to head to parliament as early as next Monday.
“People are telling me parliament is in recess so I should wait until October … why would you call lawmakers back to Rome [in the middle of August], they say. But every day we wait is a day we lose … why would we wait? Our economy won’t wait for us,” he said.
Salvini concluded by saying “I’m looking forward to seeing lawmakers in parliament next week.”