The leader of the Italian populist right-wing party, The League, and former Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini is one of Europe’s most controversial politicians. A recent poll shows that he is Italy’s most trusted party leader with 39% voter approval.
Despite his popularity, the media and the political elite brands him as “far-right,” but since most people in the E.U. agree with his ideas and positions, center-right is a more appropriate term. More than anything, he is a populist. Populism can be neutrally defined as politics that is popular among ordinary people while despised and rejected by the ruling elites.
As such, populism is not an ideology but a symptom of anti-democratic elitism. Voters only turn to populists when the establishment over a long period arrogantly refuses to listen to the will of the people. Salvini echoes the growing European discontent with the globalist project and the deconstruction of the nation-state.
Dramatic Entry and Exit
Salvini’s entry into the Italian government was as filled with drama as his exit. Initially, his party was called The Northern League and wanted the affluent northern parts of Italy to be a separate state. However, after growing Italian E.U. skepticism and worries about mass immigration, the party reinvented itself to become a national populist party against multiculturalism, eurocracy, and globalism.
In 2018, the two populist parties, The League and Five Star Movement, blasted onto the political stage by winning a substantial majority. Right-wing parties secured a whopping 70% of the votes. Neither of the two gained enough support on their own to form a government, so they joined in a coalition with Salvini as deputy prime minister and minister of interior.
Salvini immediately took steps to curb illegal immigration and was relentlessly attacked by the left. In August 2019, The League was so popular in Italy that Salvini called for a new election, citing inner friction with its coalition party as the reason. The Five Star Movement, which had fallen precipitously in the polls, decided to respond by breaking one of its core promises to its voters: Never collaborate with the left.
Salvini and his party were ousted from government and replaced by an unpopular center-left party as a coalition partner.
Not Game Over
Salvini lost power in Italy, but he may still have the last laugh. As a minister, he gained respect and popularity not only in Italy but all over Europe. He had proven that illegal immigration could easily be stopped by cracking down on N.G.O. human trafficking. During his administration, the Italian government also threatened to cut funding for the U.N. and invest at least €1 billion in North Africa to prevent migrants from trying to cross illegally into Italy.
These and other policies have rendered The League the most popular party, with the potential to govern alone, or possibly with the national-conservative Brothers of Italy.
However, much can still happen. The next general election may come as late as 2023, and by that time, Italy’s political landscape may have radically changed. The underlying issues and problems with migration and multiculturalism are not going away. All over the world, national populist parties are surging, and the most likely outcome of the next election is, therefore, that Salvini will be the next prime minister with a similarly robust mandate as Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the U.K.
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