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13 Feb, 2020 20:18

Italy’s Salvini faces 15 years in jail following Trump-style legal circus aimed at killing off his popularity

Italy’s Salvini faces 15 years in jail following Trump-style legal circus aimed at killing off his popularity

Having voted to lift his immunity from prosecution, the Italian Senate has cynically followed the US Democrats’ playbook by creating a legal sideshow to combat the growing popularity of the League’s Matteo Salvini.

Salvini’s 14-month term as Italy’s interior minister was a rollercoaster ride, as he ruled the national political agenda and built a massive power base – much to the chagrin of his former political allies, who are now exacting their revenge.

The Senate vote to lift his parliamentary immunity, meaning a prison sentence of up to 15 years comes into play, is the first step of the traditional ruling class towards stopping the political force that is Salvini – who, even in opposition, has barely spent a day out of the headlines.

Also on rt.com Defiant Salvini says opponents ‘will be defeated by history’ as Senate lifts his immunity in migrant ‘kidnapping’ case

Because the political establishment, particularly those convinced that they were born to rule, do not like politicians such as Matteo Salvini, Donald Trump, or Nigel Farage.

These figures get under their skin, because they have a knack for connecting with voters that just comes naturally. They don’t need teams of speechwriters and ear-whisperers constantly trying to read a mood and steer a course. They just know it.

With a fair amount of energy, a smart phone and a Twitter account, they can wreak havoc with establishment ambition, deliver results that no-one expected, and create power from unlikely liaisons. They are pragmatic, charismatic men.

And the establishment is determined to stop them.

So Salvini, the head of the right-wing Northern League Party, is now in his own Italian version of Trump’s impeachment sideshow, facing trial on kidnap charges for refusing to allow more than 100 migrants to disembark from a coast guard ship off Sicily in August 2019.

At the time of the incident, Salvini was riding high, outraging the establishment and delighting his growing band of supporters with his hardline stance on immigration. He was also in a coalition government with the Five Star Movement (MS5), and could rely on their support to face down opposition.

Also on rt.com Five Star leader Di Maio steps down as shaky Italian coalition seeks to avoid snap election

He was involved in around 25 standoffs with rescue ships trying to offload migrants but stood firm, much to the delight of ordinary people and the fury of the establishment and the EU.

But after a rare misfire last year, he finds himself on the outside, with former partner MS5 now ruling alongside their new PD (Democratic Party) friends in Rome.

Having worked in the European Parliament alongside both the League and MS5 during separate terms as members of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, I know that there is no love lost between the members of these two hugely ambitious parties. If one sees an opportunity to wound the other, it will seize it without delay.

Still burning from Salvini’s audacious move to collapse their coalition and force national elections last year – an uncharacteristic mistake by Salvini, who dismissed the possibility of erstwhile enemies teaming up against him – MS5 and their pals are no longer to bound to support Italy’s most popular politician, and will relish the chance to help bring him down.

It shows the scale of Salvini’s power that all this effort is being spent on a politician who isn’t even in government. Il fenomeno Salvini has been languishing on the opposition benches since last August, but still he towers over the political landscape.

So much so, in fact, that even though the League did not win the recent Emilia-Romagna elections (they were never really expected to), their strong performance – up more than 11 percent in the traditionally PD-held region, largely at the expense of the poorly performing MS5 – was enough to rattle Rome. It doesn’t take too much imagination to believe the current move against Salvini is a response to that result.

Also on rt.com Salvini trolls Pope Francis over New Year’s hand-smack controversy (VIDEO)

After all, there are six more regional elections this year, and each time the League performs well, it undermines the fragile governing MS5-PD coalition even further. It’s like death by a thousand cuts.

If Salvini can be subjected to a show trial on inflated charges of kidnapping, maybe that will have an effect on his electoral showing and stop the League steam train in its tracks.

If it backfires, which it has every chance of doing, then maybe it will bring down the Italian government. In that case, there is only one winner: step forward, Matteo Salvini.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.