Italy’s strongman Matteo Salvini holds a rally in Rome Saturday aimed at relaunching the Italian right and making a power grab for the capital.
Eight special trains and 400 coaches are ferrying in supporters from across the country for the “Italian Pride” demonstration, with the crowds also set for a speech from billionaire former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Salvini, head of the far-right League party, pulled support from the previous populist government over the summer in a bid to spark elections he was convinced he could win to govern the eurozone’s third-largest economy alone.
That plan failed when his former coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, sealed a deal with the centre-left Democratic Party to form a new government.
But after suffering a blip, the League’s popularity has risen slightly again in opposition.
Recent opinion polls put the anti-immigration party at between 30 to 33 percent of voter intentions, well ahead of the Five Star (M5S) and Democratic Party (PD), which have dropped slightly to between 18 and 20 percent each.
‘Guests at someone else’s house’
With the current left-leaning government seeking to change the electoral law to prevent Salvini triumphing alone at the next elections, the 46-year-old hopes to unite parties on the right and centre-right under his leadership.
That however will not be an easy task.
Forza Italia head Berlusconi, 83, whose party has been in a lengthy slump, appears open to just such an alliance, along with the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy.
But that Forza Italia’s leader Giorgia Meloni complained ahead of the rally she is due to join that only League banners were visible on the podium.
“It’s like we’re guests at someone else’s house,” Meloni said. “Another lost opportunity to show that we’re united.”
Some Forza Italia members told Sturday’s La Stampa newspaper that they were not happy about the presence of neo-fascist party CasaPound at the rally.
CasaPound deputy leader Simone Di Stefano insisted that none of his party’s members would make the right-armed fascist salute at the rally.
A small counter-protest will be held in a nearby square.
Salvini in August had refuted the idea of a tie-up with Forza Italia, saying the League “needs nothing and no-one”.
City needs love
Political analysts say Salvini has set his sights on taking Rome and hopes the right-wing alliance could carry him to victory in key upcoming regional elections, potentially setting him up for a win on a national level.
He “is doing what he fundamentally does best: opposition on the ground. Among the people,” said the Open news website.
The next general election is not due until 2023, but the current governing coalition of former foes is shaky and may not last.
Salvini has waged war on Rome’s mayor, M5S member Virginia Raggi, calling for her resignation, and will circulate a popular petition Saturday demanding she step down now, two years before her term is due to end.
The League head took part in a sit-in against Raggi earlier this month.
He then did Facebook live videos from places he says symbolise the city’s decline, from an abandoned stadium to a residential area besieged by illegal dump sites.
“We need a mayor capable of loving this city and cleaning it up,” he said to Raggi, telling her to go back to being a mum.
‘Hands off Rome’
Raggi, 41, has come under intense fire for the city’s ongoing garbage crisis and beleaguered transport services, which have existed for decades.
She has blamed the problems on organised crime and corruption in previous administrations.
“Hands off Rome,” she tersely replied to Salvini on Twitter.
The League leader has found an unlikely ally in his battle against Raggi in former prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Beyond that, the two Matteos profess to have little in common.
As Salvini rallies Saturday, Renzi will be drumming up support for his new centrist Italia Viva party at a Florence convention.