The rise of a Populist leader often marks the beginning of a period of democratic erosion in any democracy. In the case of Italy, the far-right antics of deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini marks a period of democratic regression initiated by his demagoguery, which uses the federal government as a tool to incrementally manipulate the Italian democracy from within.
A trigger, or cause, of an eroded democracy is the failure to halt the rise of populist outsiders. The impending failure of the Euro and increase in migration to Italy has created the conditions for a far-right demogue to rise to power. Salvini’s ascent to power can be attributed to the failure of Italian political elites in preventing his, and his party’s, election to the highest federal office.
Salvini’s policy positions align with that of most far-right populists within Europe; he is a stauch Eurosketpic, fiercely opposed to Italy’s European Union membership, integration, the Euro, and the open borders created by the Schengen system, especially in regards to illegal immigration and taking in refugees. Additionally, he remains supportive of other leaders that actively undermine democratic ideals within and outside of the EU, mostly notably Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, and Jarosław Kaczyński. He and his coalition, the Five Star Movement and The League, marshal support for their anti-democratic actions by appealing to the likes of leaders like Putin, and by garnering massive public support that mobilizes supporters to defend his actions.
Salvini’s eroding of Italian democracy can be traced back to 2015, when he re-tweeted from his personal twitter account a call to murder a judge. Here is an early example of his efforts to undermine a democratic institution and opponents through the Indian justice system, ssing social media (Twitter), a popular mobilization tool of Italy far-right politicians.
Furthermore, since the populist government has taken power Italy’s democracy has fallen in the global report on democracy, which specifies their abuse of civil rights and manipulation of the justice system. The result has been citizens disillusionment with political institutions as Salvini and his fellow League members divert from political institutions in favor of sweeping immigration policies. Salvini’s uses potential threats of terrorism and economic stagnation as an excuse to pass anti-immigration policies without the assistance of Parliament, and villify the entire immigrant population. His perceived “threat” then justifies his administration’s crackdown of civil liberties. Among his sweeping anti-immigrant policies Salvini has manipulated parliament into a security decree that removes humanitarian protections for migrants. He and his followers ensure these reforms will be passed by limiting the power of his opposition, who can block their efforts to curtail immigration to Italy.
As the Italian elections near, Salvini’s post remains vacant yet looks likely to be once again filled by him. Containing or halting the democratic backslide of Italian democracy will depend on the opposition in Parliament’s ability to curtail Salvini’s un-democratic extension of executive power in mobilizing the public against both his political opponents and passing legislation that removes the civil liberties of migrants. He faces trial for abuse of power as Interior minister and deputy prime minister, for his blocking of migrants off the port of Italy, though his placement of supporters in the federal courts will limit his opposition’s ability to secure a conviction. He and his supporters in the Senate will likely use the trial as a political tool to further their anti-immigrant agenda, leaving the burden of salvaging Italian democracy on the few magistrates whom are not in Salvini or the League’s pocket.