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Matteo Salvini starts series of rallies in first salvo of anti-government protests

Andrea Vogt
Matteo Salvini has positioned himself as the government's main opposition  - AFP

In his first public rally since being shut out of Italy’s government, League leader Matteo Salvini on Sunday defiantly pledged to force a referendum on Italy’s proportional electoral system.

Chanting “Matteo! Matteo!” and wearing “Salvini Premier” T-shirts, thousands of League voters welcomed Mr Salvini like a superstar in Pontida, a small town in Lombardy where the party has historically held its annual meeting.  

It is the first in a series of League-led rallies aimed at whipping up opposition to the newly formed coalition between the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party that took office last week.

“This is the Italy that will win,” the far-Right former interior minister told the cheering crowd. “Every month I will call on our 1,000 mayors and governors to limit the damage of those incompetents temporarily in government and prepare for a future Italy with new laws and a referendum for an electoral system that is clear: Who wins governs. Who gets one vote more governs.”

Sunday’s announcement marks the start of an aggressive campaign to secure League wins in key regional elections this autumn. 

Mr Salvini is also attempting to gather five million signatures by October on a petition to force a referendum to change Italy's electoral system to a majority system from its current mixed proportional and first past the post system.

It would prevent parties from deciding who governs between themselves and allow popular candidates, such as himself, to be elected directly. 

A survey published Sunday in the financial daily il Sole-24 Ore shows his party remains the strongest in Italy, with 34 per cent support.  

Mr Salvini has nevertheless found himself suddenly unemployed after making a grave political miscalculation on a summer tour of Italian beaches.

He called for an end to the current government coalition without considering the possibility that the Democratic Party and Five Star Movement could overcome their differences to join forces against him, keeping Giuseppe Conte as premier.

Rescued migrants look at lights on the island of Lampedusa from aboard the Ocean Viking Credit: AP Photo/Renata Brito

He referred to his former coalition partners in the Five Star Movement as “traitors who sold their values in exchange for government seats.”  

Signalling a reverse of Mr Salvini's anti-migrant policies, the new government over the weekend allowed a migrant rescue ship to discharge 82 migrants on the island of Lampedusa after six days at sea. 

Government officials said an accord had been reached to redistribute the migrants from the Ocean Viking aboard to other EU countries.

Several dozen other migrants landed on the island independently. “More than 200 disembarked in the last 24 hours,” Mr Salvini told the crowd at the rally. “The problem is Italy will become a refugee camp once again, you’ll see in the coming weeks. The NGOs are celebrating.”