Italian populism has hit a temporary roadblock with the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement M5S) changing their populist tone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, with Salvini’s party the Lega in government it can open the door to populist rhetoric and further legitimize the problematic populist language the party used when in a governing coalition with just the M5S. Italy’s political landscape has been in a state of constant change, with what seems to be a new government after a new government, and all at the behest of Salvini and his desire to undermine the political institutions so he can lead a government. There are serious implications that come with inclusion of the Lega party in the governing coalition in the Consiglio dei Ministri (Council of Ministers). This further legitimizes the far-right party and their policy stances, especially their anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies. One example of the extremly problematic rehtoric that the Lega party constantly uses comes form the Mayor of Cascina, Susanna Ceccardi who posted a cartoon on her Facebook page that depicted a young woman who was kicking a Muslim man, who was depicted in deragoatory manner, out of Europe (Bridge, 2020). This just goes to show how the Lega party in its roots is a populist party, they aim to exclude large swaths of the Italian population, Muslim Italians are the largest religious minority in Italy. Therefore we see the Lega party trying to exclude a large minority group and label them as not the “true Italian”. The League is one of the largest and most popular political parties in Italy, and language like this only helps propel their populist agenda to the voting citizens of Italy.
Action must be taken to hinder the rhetoric and policy the Lega party uses while also listening to the concerns of the voters that chose the Lega party. There are two viable options to counteract the rise of the Lega. One, the two other major political parties which are the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement M5S ) and the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party) can exclude the populist Lega part from the governing coalition and still be in a position to govern without them. While Prime Minister Draghi has made the decision to include them in his Consiglio dei Ministri he can reverse his decision and exclude them and still have his comfortable governing coalition as the major parties on the left have said that in this past that this is an experiment worth trying for the sake of Italians (Zingaretti, 2020). It is great that they were able to do this in the name of Italy and still exclude the parties that are more extreme than the Lega but they should not have incorporated the Lega as a party too extreme to include in their governing coalition.
Others have said that totally excluding the populist party from the political sphere only helps to fuel their claims that their home country no longer cares about the “real” Italian (Muller, 2016). As Muller argues,we do owe an obligation to listen and engage the constituents that vote for populist parties, because they have valid concerns. If the M5S and PD were to completely ignore the populists it could lead to the Lega outperforming both parties in the next election which are currently set to take place sometime in 2023. This next election will be extremely consequential as a voter approved amendment will lower the number of deputies from 600 to 400 in the Italian lower house. This highlights the importance of not completely shutting out the concerns that voters of the Lega party bring forward, especially with the party having large popularity. The M5S and the PD have a great opportunity to address the immigration and European Union concerns that these voters have. If they are successful in addressing these concerns they run the chance of being able to completely ignore the racist and populist rhetoric of Salvini’s Lega party.
Italy is at an important crossroad in their political landscape. They can continue to further legitimize the Lega party by including them in a government or they can expel them from the governing coalition while addressing the concerns of the Lega’s constituents. Again, it is important to understand while individuals may not agree with the Lega’s constituents’ concerns they are still valid. There is much the two major parties can do to address their concerns like passing a sweeping immigration bill or reaching a compromise with the European Union on the main concerns the Lega voters bring forward or they can communicate to their constituents the importance of the European experiment . The two main parties can also work with other minor parties in the Italian Parliament, while it is symbolic and shows stability that the governing coalition is able to pull all major parties into a coalition, there are ample parties that Prime Minister Draghi can form a different governing coalition with. While the Lega party is not the main political entity leading the government, with its legitimization by the Movimento 5 Stelle it opens the possibility of the Lega one day being a party that leads a government.
Britton, Bianca, and Livia Borghese. “Italian Parties Strike Deal for New Government in Blow to Salvini.” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 Aug. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/08/28/europe/italy-democratic-party-five-star-movement-coalition-intl.
Luca, Marino De. “The New Draghi Government and the Fate of Populism in Italy.” EUROPP, 24 Feb. 2021, blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2021/02/24/the-new-draghi-government-and-the-fate-of-populism-in-italy/.
Müller, Jan-Werner. What Is Populism? Penguin Books, 2017.
Team, Bridge Initiative. “Factsheet: THE LEAGUE (LEGA, LEGA NORD, THE NORTHERN LEAGUE).” Bridge Initiative, bridge.georgetown.edu/research/factsheet-the-league-lega-lega-nord-the-northern-league/.