Populists campaign in Sicily after forming Italy government
ROME (AP) — Days after taking office, the two pillars of Italy’s first populist government led rallies Sunday in Sicily to maintain their popular support while detailing their strategies for deporting migrants and implementing other campaign promises that helped put them in power.
Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, the leaders of the right-wing League and euroskeptic 5-Star Movement, respectively, appeared at political rallies in several Sicilian cities a week before municipal elections are held on the island region.
They want to capitalize on the momentum of their coalition government taking national office Friday. However, with each man emphasizing different priorities, there are doubts if the new government, led by a political novice with 5-Star sympathies, Premier Giuseppe Conte, will last a full 5-year term.
The north-based League stokes fears about migrants, who have arrived in huge numbers to Sicily. In his role as interior minister in the new government, Salvini vowed to expel them en masse, dismissing logistical challenges and costs.
“It’s too costly to keep them in Italy, in hotels,” Salvini said. The money would be better spent “building a future for them” in their home countries, Salvini said.
Many of the League’s voters associate migrants with crime. Salvini said holding centers for those awaiting deportation will be built so “they won’t leave from morning till night.”
Sicilians in general have shown patience in dealing with arrival of hundreds of thousands of newcomers. Some islanders angrily rejected the anti-migrant rhetoric.
They protested Salvini’s visit to a so-called “hot spot” in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where many of the ships that rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats dock and launching the asylum-seeking process in many cases.
Holding a banner reading “Refugees welcome,” the protesters shouted “Salvini, go home!” and “Salvini, shame on you.”
Pozzallo Mayor Roberto Ammatuna disputed Salvini’s claim t that the island had become “a refugee camp of Europe.” The mayor retorted, “Here there are beaches full and tourists.”
The 5-Star Movement became Parliament’s largest party thanks in large part to support in Italy’s underdeveloped south, where the jobless rate tops 50 percent among young people in many places. Voters in the March election embraced Di Maio’s promise of a minimum income for the unemployed.
Campaigning in Catania for the 5-Star candidate for mayor there, Di Maio, the minister of labor and economic development in the new Italian government, pledged to quickly set up employment centers as part of the Movement’s promise to pay people with jobs a guaranteed monthly income of 780 euros ($930.)
Rejecting the label of “handouts” for freeloaders, the Movement says the income will only be given to those who try to find work. After three jobs are refused, a recipient would lose the state income.
Di Maio also renewed his campaign pledge to undo the reforms that targeted the pension system that made it possible for large number of Italians to retire in their late 50s or earlier.
Critics have said the populists’ promises, if realized, will boost Italy’s public debt to unsustainable levels.
Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio