The center-right alliance no longer exists—or maybe not yet. The only thing that is certain is that the current arrangements of the coalition, which were held together only by necessity in the first place, have collapsed. Everyone knows it, but few admit it openly.
This is why tatters are flying everywhere. Toti, the winner in Liguria, went as far as to say that Salvini should actually act as the coalition leader, not just in the interests of his own party. In reply, the Lega’s Rixi didn’t mince words: “He should remember that the only reason why he’s still regional president is because of Salvini.” Not exactly the pinnacle of subtlety.
In Puglia, things have gotten even worse for the coalition. The head of the Lega was unsparing in criticizing the “wrong candidates,” namely Caldoro and Fitto, who “didn’t win over people’s hearts.” He had been strongly against running Fitto. This time, it was the regional coordinator of FdI who responded in harsh tones: “We all chose Fitto. Unfortunately, there has been a strong downsizing of the other parties of the center-right, with the Lega falling from 25.9% at the European elections to 9.57%.” Pure vitriol.
Toti’s suggestion to Salvini was actually nothing more than an attempt to convey, as gracefully as possible, what everyone in Forza Italia has been stressing: that neither Salvini nor Giorgia Meloni have shown that they can lead a coalition. They are party leaders and think only of the interest of their party. The FI’s Brunetta, impetuous as usual, said it openly, without any hesitation: “He was never the leader of the center-right. He made unilateral decisions, speaking only for the Lega.”
Berlusconi isn’t speaking out officially, but he’s letting his opinion filter through. There’s no discussion, according to him, that if he had been leading the charge, things would have gone completely differently. The incumbent governors were rewarded by the pandemic situation and the sense of safety they were able to give the voters, but this was only an ephemeral triumph. It’s all about winning over the undecided, and that’s why a moderate party is needed. This is yet another of the many arguments to exclude the FI’s coalition partners from leadership, about which one can say many things, but not that they appeal to moderates.
The irritation of the FI has reached the boiling point. Even the motion of no-confidence against Minister Azzolina, which will be discussed in the Senate next week, is creating gratuitous ill-will all around. The president of the Forza Italia’s senate group, Bernini, has neither presented nor signed the motion. FI will vote on the Lega’s motion, because they’ll never miss a chance to vote against the government, but their view is that hopeless motions that are certain to be defeated only serve to strengthen the government. On September 30, FI’s deputies will meet to analyze how they will vote. On Monday, the party’s leaders will meet on the same issue. On both occasions, the recriminations against the leadership of the Lega leader will be more or less unanimous.
Salvini is not budging. On Wednesday afternoon, he met with the parliamentary group leaders, Giorgetti, the number two, and Calderoli. The decision, which was already in the air, was to create a political secretariat which will work alongside the leader. No self-criticism. No admission of wrongs. But also no explicit indictment against the opposing voices. The bad blood is certainly there—bubbling underneath. The official line is to pin it on the “extremists,” Borghi and Bagnai. Giorgetti himself, in private, is getting impatient. But for now, nothing will change in the Lega. Nor will anything change in the FdI, which is the only right-wing force that has been strengthened by the latest vote. “Who would be Prime Minister [in case of elections]? It would be the one who gets one extra vote,” said “sister” Giorgia Meloni cuttingly. This is precisely the attitude of internal competition that has so far prevented the center-right from becoming a true alliance with government ambitions.
Salvini assured everyone that the leaders of the alliance would speak out soon, “now that the picture is clear.” There’s very little that they’ll be able to say. The situation is what it is, and for now there is no way out. The solution—even if no one would ever admit it openly in the right-wing alliance or in the Lega—would involve the replacement of Matteo Salvini, an eventuality that was unthinkable until a few months ago, but which today is beginning to become realistic. “Today, this is premature,” a top FI leader commented, with the implication that the time might soon come when this is no longer so.
At the same time, Salvini being replaced is the most feared scenario on the other side of the political spectrum. Because a Lega that cleans up its act, no longer weighed down by its leader’s rhetorical outbursts, and thus becomes acceptable to Brussels as well, could credibly propose a government of national unity against the current crisis—and at the moment, this is the only eventuality that Conte is scared of.
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