Italy's Next Political Crisis Depends On The Outcome Of An Online Vote

Today, Italy’s ruling 5-Star Movement will hold an online vote to decide whether or not to block a possible kidnapping trial against Matteo Salvini, the party's coalition ally and leader of the conservative League party, as well as to lift his legal immunity. A negative vote would allow prosecutors to proceed with a case against Salvini and potentially lead to government collapse

The vote is being held on Monday from 0900 GMT to 1800 GMT, and its result will dictate how the movement’s senators will vote on Tuesday in a committee that could block the Sicilian probe.

However, unlike most other unscientific online polls, the outcome of this one could result in the latest (in a long series) of Italian government crises: according to Corriere della Sera, citing "concerned" government sources, a vote to allow legal proceedings against League’s Matteo Salvini on Diciotti case "will provoke a government crisis" with Ansa echoing the sentiment, noting that allowing the investigation and possible trial against Salvini to continue would put the government at risk of collapse.

As an Italian senator Salvini enjoys immunity from prosecution unless the Senate votes to lift it, which would require Five Star to vote to do so.

The informal referendum takes place after Salvini asked the Senate to reject the request for a trial, which has emerged as a problem for 5-Star, which built its support on a "squeaky clean judicial image" and has always attacked lawmakers who used parliamentary privilege to avoid trials.

“Who has always preached that politicians must defend themselves in trials and not from trials ... can’t have doubts about whether to allow the Salvini probe to proceed,” wrote commentator Marco Travaglio in il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, which is considered close to the 5-Star.

And, as Travaglio adds, the online vote shows the issue has become “a classical case of identity crisis” for the movement.

However, a grassroots inquiry will likely absolve Salvini: at the end of January, 83% of 5-Star voters said Salvini should not be tried, according to an SWG poll, which suggests the issue of parliamentary privilege is no longer of major concern to 5-Star supporters.

As we have discussed previously, and as Reuters noted overnight, tensions in the ruling coalition have been running high with the allies at odds over a long list of issues, including whether to forge ahead with a new Alpine rail tunnel between France and Italy.

Meanwhile, in hopes of de-escalating the feud between the 5-Star movement, whose popularity has slumped in recent months at the expense of the resurgent League, the blog post announcing the online vote clearly stated that the decision to block the migrants on board the Diciotti coast guard vessel was not Salvini’s alone, but was shared by 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and others.

“The delay in the disembarkation of the Diciotti, in order to redistribute the migrants in various European countries, was made in order to protect the interests of the state?” the query reads. A “yes” will deny prosecutors authorization, while a “no” vote will allow them to continue, the blog says.

Some Five Star figures have criticised the unclear wording of the online poll, which is phrased in a way that they argue makes it unclear what members are voting on. Beppe Grillo, the politically incorrect comedian who co-founded the party and for years served as its public face but who now is not officially involved with its daily operations, joked that the question was phrased as a “Catch 22”.

Further complicating matters, the Italian press reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Di Maio and the 5-Star transport minister may all be put under investigation alongside Salvini after Conte wrote a letter, which was then deposited in the Senate, saying the decision to block the migrants was taken collectively.

Addressing the potentially adverse outcome, speaking to supporters in Sardinia on Sunday, Salvini brushed off concern about the online ballot: “What I did, I did to defend the safety of citizens, and if necessary I’d do it again,” he said. On Monday, Salvini again denied any possible crisis over online vote, after la Repubblica reported in an interview with Salvini that the fractious coalition won’t fall the dispute on possible charges for refusing to let a migrant ship dock last summer in his role as interior minister.

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The debate over whether Five Star should vote to lift Salvini’s immunity comes as the party’s popularity is slipping ahead of European elections in May, having been overtaken by Salvini’s anti-migrant League in national opinion polls. It has also exposed divisions between the party’s leadership, fronted by Luigi Di Maio, who shares the role of Italy’s deputy prime minister with Salvini, and rank-and-file members who are anxious that the radical soul of the movement remains intact according to The Financial Times.

Salvini has been campaigning in Sardinia ahead of regional elections there this week, where he said he expected to see a right-wing coalition including the League win power from the centre-left Democratic party. On Sunday he said he was “sleeping peacefully” ahead of the Five Star vote. “If they vote yes, they vote yes, if they vote no, they vote no."