The baron who threatens the power of Salvini | International

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There are victories more bitter than some defeats. Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, the man who until a few months ago dominated all the polls in Italy, noticed that strange taste on Tuesday afternoon when he attended the count and the stratospheric result of the candidate of his party in Veneto. Luca Zaia (Conegliano, 52 years old), a seasoned baron in Umberto Bossi's old Northern League, managed to win the regional elections held on Sunday and Monday with 76.8% of the votes compared to the humiliating 15.7% of his direct rival from the center-left. The problem is that Zaia does not agree with the methods of Salvini, with his populist expansion strategy in the south of the country or with his way of facing the COVID crisis. Perhaps that is why, he presented himself to the elections with a personal list in coalition that obtained three times the support than the original mark of the party. An electoral slap that comes from within and that will be difficult to hide in the coming weeks.

Zaia's victory is that of a different style within the League: moderate, pro-European, liberal and based on effective management. Veneto, among other things, has been the region that has best managed the health crisis in Italy. While the contagion curve was initially traced to that of Lombardy – where Attilio Fontana, a man from Salvini, rules – evolution has ended up being infinitely better than that of its neighbor. An efficiency due to the speed of action, the massive tests and the talent of Andrea Crisanti, one of Zaia's bedside virologists (although they ended up distancing themselves later). It happened while Salvini continued to minimize the impact of the virus and attend rallies and kiss hands without putting on a mask.

Zaia is a black leg of the League. Son of a humble family – his father was a mechanic – from the province of Padua, formed in the ranks of the party from a very young age – at that time he organized parties – at the hand of Umberto Bossi, he prospered in municipal elections. Know the territory to the millimeter and empathize with the citizens. Graduated from the School of Enology and Animal Production Sciences, he used that knowledge to be Minister of Agriculture between 2008 and 2010 in one of Silvio Berlusconi's governments. Today he faces his third term and is the second most valued politician in Italy, behind Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Following the results, Salvini's partners begin to speak openly about their leadership within the coalition. Also of the weight that his party must have in making decisions about the artifact that the three formations form. Renato Brunetta, deputy of Forza Italia and heavyweight of Silvio Berlusconi's party, has no doubts about the change that is opening: “We will have to raise a great debate about his weight and that of the League in the coalition. His political line, which has impressed the entire center-right, has lost momentum: he fell in Emilia Romagna, in Tuscany … But in Veneto he has also lost, because his list is a third of Zaia's. His strategy for the National League does not exist. And the League in the North is no longer Salvini: it is Zaia. And that is a very strong element to take into account. So you will have to do the math in your own home, but we will also have to do it in the new balance of the coalition.

The views of the President of Veneto on the European Union and on the use of resources provided by the Mede (the European Stability Mechanism), for example, are substantially different from those of his boss. "He does not say it in public, but he is in favor of its use," say sources around him. Veneto has always been a loose verse within the party – in their logo they are called Liga and not Lega, and they wear the León de San Marcos – but the traditional differences are now beginning to be an example to be followed by the rest of the party.


In the League there are different currents that also begin to show their disagreement with some of Salvini's decisions. Men like Giancarlo Giorgietti, whom Salvini himself placed as chief of staff during the year they ruled Italy with the 5-Star Movement (M5S), have already questioned their decisions. A historic Lombard deputy of the party, who knows the internal dynamics, sums it up like this: “Formally, nothing changes. Zaia says that he will remain the governor and Salvini the captain (as he likes to be called). But, in reality, nothing will be as before within the League. Zaia's victory is that of a different, more moderate and pragmatic style. And if you take a look at the votes from Veneto, where Zaia wanted to distance himself from him, this style is the winner ”.

Few of the right-wing coalition doubt that Giuseppe Conte's government, made up of the PD, the M5S and Italia Viva (Matteo Renzi's party), has a good chance of exhausting the legislature. The electoral advance was due to a blow from the right in the regional elections, something that has not happened – of the six main regions in contention, three have been distributed to each block. "It is clear that during that time there will be an internal current in the League that will try to overthrow him," says a member of the coalition.

Brothers of Italy, the only one of the three parties that has substantially improved its data – it has managed to take over the Marche region, in the hands of the PD so far – believes that forces will have to be rebalanced when the political elections approach. Guido Crosetto, one of its three founders, believes that "the center-right will have to unite something more." “He has been too divided. Each one interested in the destiny of their own brand. And yes, of course, when we elect new candidates we will have to rebalance the weights with the current situation, ”he warns. And in that rebalancing, perhaps after two or three years, Zaia could already emerge strongly.

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