Deserted by Voters for Surging Right-Wing Meloni, Populist Italian Salvini Faces Leadership Challenge

MILAN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 26: Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega party, gestures as he addresses journalists during a press conference after general elections of September 25 in Milan, Italy on September 26, 2022 (Photo by Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Populist League leader Matteo Salvini is facing a leadership challenge after his party underperformed in Sunday’s election, with right-wing voters moving to Giorgia Meloni instead, taking the right coalition to an overall victory but leaving Salvini trampled beneath the surging Brothers party.

Leading up to Sunday’s election, many opinion polls put the League (Lega) at around twelve per cent or more but the first projected results of the vote put the party at just 8.8 per cent, a huge decline for the party which achieved over 17 per cent of the vote in the last election held in 2018 and also governed the country alongside the Five star Movement (M5S) in recent memory.

The result shows the League far behind national conservative Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FdI) who won over 26 per cent of the vote and barely ahead of Salvini’s other ally Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party received just over 8 per cent, the newspaper Il Giornale reports.

According to the newspaper, the election results could spell a possible leadership challenge for Salvini and referred to the League as a party in crisis. Indeed, a la Repubblica report Tuesday morning suggests a leadership challenge may be already underway with a Lega founding member saying it is now time to change.

Salvini and the League’s decline comes after he chose to join the national coalition government under Mario Draghi, which saw the popularity of the League rapidly decline, while the Brothers of Italy, who remained the only major opposition party to the coalition, rose in the polls dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic.

The League leader addressed the press on Monday saying, “The opposition was rewarded, staying in government was not easy. I would do it again because with Italy closed for Covid it was right to be there, but staying in government with Di Maio, Lamorgese and Speranza cost us.”

He also addressed possible calls for him to resign as League leader saying he wanted to concentrate on the next five years of the government saying, “I’ve never wanted to work so much.”

On the results, he stated, “They don’t satisfy me, but we are in a centre-right government of which we will be protagonists,” and added that the last government treated his party as “extras.”

While his party may face a crisis falling from a high of 34.3 per cent of the national vote in the last European Parliament elections in 2019 to just 8.8 per cent on Sunday, Salvini has hinted at returning to the Interior Ministry, a position he held in 2018 and 2019 after campaigning against the surge of illegal immigrants arriving in Italy this year, which has topped over 67,000 as of September 25th according to UNHCR figures.

While serving as interior Minister in 2018 and 2019, Salvini was credited for greatly reducing the number of illegal migrant landings and closing Italian ports to migrant taxi NGOs, which currently operate in the Mediterranean, dropping off thousands of migrants so far this year.

The decline in arrivals during the period was matched by a large decline in the number of migrants drowning while trying to cross the sea route as well.

Salvini’s ambitions may be frustrated, however: in response to his party’s poor showing, coalition leader Meloni is unlikely to give him a senior cabinet role, la Repubblica reports.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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