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Italian Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede arrives for a meeting at parliament, as Italian Senate is due to set a date to hold a no-confidence vote in the government in Rome, Italy, August 12, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS

Rome: With Italy facing the prospect of a snap election this fall, Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini is mapping out the way forward if his anti-immigrant League party takes control.

Parliament leaders will meet on Monday to decide when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will have to face a confidence vote that will shape the time frame for a national ballot. Salvini’s party has established a commanding lead in opinion polls but his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, is in talks with opposition groups to block his push for an election.

“We’re ready to draft the budget,” Salvini said in an Aug. 11 interview with Bloomberg. “The earlier we get to vote, the earlier we can get started on the budget, for which we already have a clear plan in mind.”

Italy’s government is in a state of turmoil after Salvini pulled his support from the governing coalition. The two groups fought incessantly since they gained power in Rome more than a year ago, and Salvini has asked for a vote in parliament as soon as this week.

Budget Clash

It’s unlikely that Salvini’s proposed spending measures - such as heavy tax cuts and a vast public works program - would comply with budget rules set out by the European Union. If he follows through with his plans, Salvini would be setting up a clash with the EU, which just decided in July not to censure Rome over its 2019 budget.

Talks between Five Star and the center-left Democratic Party envision an “institutional” government after the likely collapse of the one led by Conte in a confidence vote in the coming weeks, but the plan is already sowing discord inside the parties. The goal would be to lay the foundations for the 2020 budget, avoiding an automatic VAT increase that’s worth 23 billion euros ($26 billion) and possibly changing the country’s voting system.

A tie-up between the Democrats and Five Star is unlikely given that the two have traded insults and have been at odds on almost every major issue for years. But it’s a signal of the obstacles that Salvini faces after he pulled the plug on his fractious coalition with Five Star and called for “swift” elections to capitalize on soaring poll ratings.

To speed up the vote, Salvini is considering pulling out ministers from his League party from the government, forcing Conte to step down, according to the newspaper Il Messaggero.

Italy’s 10-year bond suffered its worst sell-off of the year last week and the country’s main stock index on Friday closed down 8.5% off this year’s high. The index was up 0.3% at 10:17 in Rome.

First Test

The first test will come on Monday, when parliamentary leaders meet to set a timetable for the vote of no confidence against Conte called for by Salvini’s League. The deputy premier wants it this week but a postponement to Aug. 20 or beyond is likely. This in turn will delay a potential dissolution of parliament to later in the month, with the election possibly coming in late October.

The ultimate power to dissolve parliament rests with President Sergio Mattarella, but it’s unlikely he will do so if enough lawmakers pledge to support a new government.

Still, despite the shared goal of hemming in Salvini, the chances of an alliance remain slim. Five Star wants parliament to quickly approve a law that would drastically slash the number of lawmakers, even before the fate of Conte’s government is decided. The Democrats oppose that.

With the League polling just shy of 40%, Salvini could get an outright majority in both branches of parliament. An alliance with the far-right Brothers of Italy promises a safer majority. Add Forza Italia to the coalition and Salvini might even get the two-thirds majority needed to amend the country’s constitution.

“I don’t think anyone is scared of democracy,” Salvini said. “We just want the people to vote.”