Governing coalition’s crisis intrudes on Italians’ summer break
Italians’ holiday season is usually sacrosanct, but this is the year that politics came to the beach and interrupted their summer break.
A two-week-long crisis in the 14-month-old coalition government precipitated the prospect of early elections, as the country’s president Sergio Mattarella this week tried to broker a power-sharing deal among its fragmented political parties. Talks, which have so far proved inconclusive, will resume on Tuesday.
On the beach of Ladispoli, a faded 1970s beach town 35km west of Rome on the Lazio littoral, the discontent was clear. “People are trying to relax and they just voted a year ago,” said Otello Maritozzi, who works at a textiles factory in Rome. “Italians are not following politics [now].”
For deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, the chaos was a deliberate strategy: the leader of the far-right League’s call for elections two weeks ago was a bid to cash in on his party’s rising poll ratings at the expense of his erstwhile coalition partners, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
But Mr Salvini’s move now looks like a midsummer mis-step. The majority of parliamentarians are wary of fresh elections in which they may lose their seats and, as the largest party in parliament, Five Star is in the strongest position. It is considering whether to try and form a government with the Democratic Party; meanwhile Mr Salvini has been forced to backtrack, offering to return to government with a new team.
The timing of his bid for power was no accident: his natural habitat is the beach. He is often photographed with his shirt off, drinking mojitos or taking to the decks for impromptu DJ sets. After calling for elections earlier this month he launched an unofficial campaign with a tour of Italy’s beach towns, taking the campaign to where the voters are.
But beachgoers at Ladispoli reflecting on their country’s political direction this week were not wholly positive about his manoeuvring.
Claudio, a lifeguard wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, said he would like to see a centre-right coalition government. But his companions on the beach’s black volcanic sand, Giuseppe Circeo, a statistician, and Sebastiano De Caro, a prop manager in the film industry, support Mr Mattarella’s talks to see if an alternative majority can be formed.
“We can’t vote every year,” said Mr De Caro, who voted for Five Star last year but was disillusioned by their alliance with the far-right League. “It has a cost.”
If the League wins an election he would emigrate immediately, he added: “If there is a vote and Salvini wins it will be dictatorship. Italy has always leaned towards fascism — we invented it.”
The town traditionally voted for leftwing parties but following an influx of Romanians, the anti-immigrant League won control of the town hall.
Laura Mercati, a local retiree, is worried that Mr Salvini will win any new election, fuelling anti-immigrant feeling. “Every day there is more racism, black people are insulted on the streets,” she said. “But it makes no sense — our real problems in Italy are not immigrants, but the economy and legality.”
Others on the beach agree. “Salvini . . . used to complain about us southerners and now he has shifted to blaming immigrants for our problems,” said Umberto Speranza, a painter and decorator on a day trip from Rome.
But not everyone believes a stable government is possible between parties with vastly diverging agendas.
For Giancarlo Cicari, a school headmaster from Rome who has been coming to Ladispoli for 40 years, a coalition between Five Star and the PD “would end in blood and tears”.
Mr Cicari switched from voting for the Socialists to Five Star last year but feels let down. “Now they just want to hold on to their seats [in parliament]. But Italians are not stupid.”
He does not care for Mr Salvini either, but agrees with his demands that EU countries should share responsibility for immigration and allow more flexibility in public spending. “For all his faults, he defended us from Europe,” he said.
Ladispoli’s shift from PD to League shows that “the wind has changed in Italy”, Mr Cicari said — and if the League goes into opposition, it would only get stronger. “If you stop them from governing now it will just get worse.”
Pasquale Catricala, a retired architect, agreed. “Salvini speaks to the belly not the brain,” he said.
In high holiday season, many Italians care little about the political crisis, Mr Catricala added. They talk “only about the football transfer market . . . if someone says to us, ‘I will lower taxes, reduce bills’, he is a hero. But they have all tried it — Berlusconi, Prodi.”