The forthcoming European elections have ignited an open debate in Italy over who controls the real balance of power in the country’s tenuous governing coalition.
In an interview with Spanish daily El Pais, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte dismissed the notion that Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the arch-conservative Lega party, Matteo Salvini, is the real head of the government.
“I’m at the helm,” Conte asserted, suggesting that Salvini was “an important minister and deputy premier, as is the leader of the 5-Star Movement (and also deputy prime minister), Luigi Di Maio.
Conte fired his government’s Transport deputy minister Armando Siri last week after the Lega-member became embroiled in a corruption scandal allegedly involving payments from the Sicilian Mafia’s number one fugitive, Matteo Messina Denaro.
The standoff between Salvini and Di Maio appears to be hurting the coalition’s support amongst likely voters ahead of the European elections as polls suggest that both Lega and Five Star have seen their favourability ratings drop significantly in recent weeks.
In a poll for Corriere della Sera, Lega appears to have lost 6 percentage points over the last months, down from 36.9% in April to 30.9% in May.