MILAN - Tensions are rising fast in Italy's populist coalition, with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's party signaling Thursday it's considering holding an early election due to deepening policy disagreements with its governing partner, the 5-Star Movement.
The right-wing League party issued a statement complaining of deadlock on a variety of issues, most recently a vote Wednesday in parliament over the future of a European Union-funded high-speed rail link between Turin and the French city of Lyon. The statement said “it is useless to go on,” adding that “the only alternative to this government is to give the word back to Italians with new elections.”
The 5-Star Movement, which opposes the high-speed train link as too costly and unnecessary, replied that the League's note was “not comprehensible,” and asked the party to clearly state what it wants.
Salvini was meeting Thursday with Premier Giuseppe Conte, who had postponed a news conference planned for Thursday after a Senate vote Wednesday defeated a 5-Star motion to force parliament to block the high-speed train. The vote laid bare the deep divisions in the 14 1/2-month-old government.
After the vote, Salvini told supporters in the coastal town of Sabaudia “that something broke in the last months” in the governing coalition.
While analysts have speculated that Salvini would seek a government shake-up and possibly more power to reflect the League's 38% voter approval, Salvini has insisted that is not the case. The 5-Stars, meanwhile, have slipped to 17% voter approval.
Besides the high-speed rail-link, which Salvini wants for his core constituency of northern Italian entrepreneurs, the League listed other areas of contention between the two parties, including fiscal policies, energy, justice reform, regional autonomy and relations with Europe.
In his comments Wednesday, Salvini noted that the 5-Star's pet electoral promise, basic income, which the government passed, was a handout that did not create jobs.
Salvini is coming off another victory this week with the passage of a new security law that fines humanitarian rescue ships up to 1 million euros ($1.1 million) if they enter Italian waters with migrants. Preventing such ships from docking has been Salvini's main goal as interior minister.
Despite Salvini's protests, speculation persists that he is seeking Cabinet changes to secure backing for closing Italian ports to humanitarian boats, which requires the support also of the transport and defense ministries.
Political analyst Wolfgang Piccoli said the 5-Star Movement may accept the ousters of two of its ministers “especially when confronted with the alternative of facing snap polls.”