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Italy’s Populists Call Confidence Vote as Allies Quarrel

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(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s populist government is trying to strong-arm dissident Five Star senators into backing tighter restrictions on asylum-seekers that have fueled tension between the coalition partners.

The administration has called a vote of confidence in parliament, a fairly common tactic in Italy, in a bid to force the five lawmakers into line. It means the dissenters face expulsion from their party if they oppose the government in the vote expected Wednesday.

Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini of the anti-migration League is pushing for the restrictions as he looks to capitalize on a surge in support for his efforts to stem the arrival of undocumented foreigners into Italy. The issue is just one of the topics causing friction between Five Star and the League as they resist European Union demands to rein in their spending plans.

Read More: Italy’s Populists Are at Loggerheads on a Whole Bunch of Issues

The coalition partners hold a majority in both houses, although in the 320-seat Senate the two groups only have 14 more votes than the opposition. The center-right Forza Italia party of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said it won’t take part in the vote. The small far-right Brothers of Italy said it would back the government.

Six days before the deadline for Italy to submit a revised 2019 budget to the European Commission, Salvini and fellow-deputy premier Luigi Di Maio of Five Star are clashing repeatedly over a series of issues from spending priorities to fighting corruption, highlighting their parties’ contrasting natures. Di Maio is “angry” and wants to see more “loyalty” from his government allies, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Wednesday.

“I am getting tired now,” Corriere quoted Di Maio as saying.

Newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore reported that the government was seeking a “soft” procedure in the event that the European Union sanctions Italy over its budget plans, aiming to “reduce financial tensions.”

The League is based in the rich north of Italy and has long campaigned to restrict immigration. The web-based Five Star Movement is strongest in the poor south and has proclaimed the fight against political corruption a priority.

Anti-Corruption Bill

Five Star and the League are also at loggerheads in the lower house of parliament over Five Star’s demand in an anti-corruption bill to scrap time limits on how long people can be prosecuted after an initial trial. Salvini has said the government must “avoid trials that last forever, also for the innocent, which would be a defeat for everyone.”

Attempts to resolve the latest tussle have been stalled by the absence of both Salvini, on a visit to Ghana, and Di Maio on a visit to China.

Salvini’s hand is strengthened in the contest by opinion polls which show the League has leapfrogged its partner since March general elections. The League is backed by 30.4 percent of voters while Five Star is supported by 28.2 percent, according to an SWG survey. This compares with the League’s 17.4 percent and Five Star’s 32.7 percent in March.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Follain in Rome at jfollain2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Alessandra Migliaccio, Kevin Costelloe

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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