Matteo Salvini vows to return League party to power in Italy

By Colleen Barry, Associated Press

Matteo Salvini has pledged to tens of thousands of diehard backers of his populist League party that they will return to government with even more power than before.

He also hit a eurosceptic note as he warned Italy’s European allies in shaky French, German and English that “the Italian people are no-one’s servant”.

“I will never give up,” Mr Salvini told an annual pilgrimage of League voters to the Lombard town Pontida, which has long historical associations to nationalist movements.

The crowd at the annual rally of The League party (Luca Bruno/AP)

He was relaunching himself as the head of Italy’s opposition after his grave political miscalculation landed League out of government.

“Those who thought that I would be worn out and need a break, I give my word of honour, I will work even more than before,” Mr Salvini said.

“I won’t give up because our country deserves everything.”

This year’s gathering took on additional significance as Mr Salvini whips up his base in opposition to the new 5-Star-Democratic Party government that took office this month.

It came after his failed move to force new elections pushed the League out of government and deprived him of his bully pulpit as Italy’s hard-line anti-migrant interior minister.

“I’d rather concede seven ministry posts to traitors now that we will win back with interest and transparency in a few months,” Mr Salvini told the crowd.

While he muted his often fiery tones, urging supporters to be patient and polite in their political discourse, speakers who took to the stage before him spoke of revolution and resistance and the rank-and-file attacked Italian journalist Gad Lerner, who was flanked by police bodyguards.

Matteo Salvini poses for selfies with supporters (Luca Bruno/AP)

League backers remained undaunted by Mr Salvini’s speedy fall from government, waving regional and party flags and chanting “elections” and “freedom” during the annual gathering, which mixes politics with a festival atmosphere in a meadow in Pontida.

It is a place of pilgrimage for the League as the birthplace of a medieval alliance that repelled a foreign emperor.

“I like Salvini because he is the only one that fights the idea of a European Union, which I do not support, because I believe the European bureaucrats do not do Italy any good,” said Luca Carminati, a labourer from nearby Bergamo.

“Salvini fights that idea. He is trying to give value to the Italian people again.”

Mr Salvini, speaks at a party’s rally in Pontida (Luca Bruno/AP)

A survey published on Sunday in the financial daily il Sole 24 Ore shows despite Mr Salvini’s political missteps, the League remains the strongest party in Italy with the support of 34% of those surveyed, while the new government is viewed unfavourably by 55%.

The survey of 1,500 of voting-age Italians by Winpoll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3%.

Any future government with Mr Salvini would likely need the support of other right-wing parties.

The Winpoll survey indicated a coalition with the far-right Brothers of Italy would enjoy 43% support, while throwing in former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia would bring it up to a more stable majority of nearly 50%.

But Mr Salvini will have to tame the rhetoric if he wants to realign the League with centre-right Forza Italia.

Forza Italia politician Osvaldo Napoli told the news agency ANSA in Rome that “the climate of violence and hatred registered in these hours in Pontida should make all political leaders reflect, not just those on the centre-right but also in the current, uncertain and opaque majority in government”.