ROME (Reuters) - The Italian Senate on Tuesday postponed till next week further debate on an ongoing government crisis, frustrating a push by Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, for new elections.
Salvini pulled the plug on his ruling coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement last week, seeking to capitalize on his surging popularity by triggering an election that could see him crowned as prime minister.
However, Salvini’s plan is not going smoothly because 5-Star and center-left parties in parliament are seeking ways of avoiding an election some four years ahead of schedule and of forming an alternative majority instead.
The League has presented a no-confidence motion in the government but the Senate rejected its request for it to be debated on Wednesday, and instead decided that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte should address the upper house over the crisis on Aug. 20.
“What is more beautiful, more democratic, more dignified than to give the choice back to the people,” Salvini told the Senate in a speech constantly interrupted by shouting and heckling from other parties.
The League chief has dominated Italian politics over the last year with his constant campaigning, his popular clampdown on illegal immigration and his “man-of-the-people” image.
In a surprise move, Salvini said he accepted a demand by 5-Star to immediately approve one of its main policies, to reduce the number of parliamentarians to 600 from 945, but only on condition that this be followed by a national election.
He also said it should only apply to the election after the one he is pushing for.
The cut in the number of lawmakers will require re-setting electoral boundaries and possibly a new voting system and a referendum before an election can be held, a process likely to take months. The League has previously backed the reform in parliament, but now says it is a delaying tactic.
There was no immediate response from 5-Star, other than to say that Salvini had buckled to protests from ordinary people who backed one of their flagship policies.
Salvini spent most of his speech attacking former prime minister Matteo Renzi, of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), who has been vigorously promoting a coalition between the PD and 5-Star, and presents the League leader as a threat to democracy.
“The time has come to write a new page for Italy,” Renzi told reporters before the Senate debate, saying 5-Star, the PD and other parties should bury their differences and join forces.
“Anyone is free to say no to this accord, but don’t then conduct an election campaign warning about the risk posed by Salvini,” said Renzi, who has had difficulty persuading the new PD Leader Nicola Zingaretti to accept his proposal.
Editing by Crispian Balmer and Gareth Jones