Lega Nord

Northern League (LN)
   Lega Nord is the name taken in February 1991 by a confederation of regional leagues campaigning for a federalist reform of the Italian Constitution, fiscal reform, privatization, and strong anti-immigrant measures. By far the most important of the leagues was the Lega Lombarda/Lombard League, which redefined localist feeling in much of northern Italy in the 1980s. Formed in 1982, the Lega Lombarda was initially regarded as a political oddity. However, the skillful leadership of Umberto Bossi, the worsening corruption of the Italian political system, the growing influx of non-European migrants, and unscrupulous “antisoutherner” rhetoric added to the League’s appeal. In the 1987 general elections, Bossi was elected to the Senate.
   The real electoral breakthrough, however, came in local elections in May 1990. Exploiting dissatisfaction with the party system, the Lega Lombarda won 19 percent of the vote in Lombardy; autonomy candidates did unprecedentedly well in other parts of the North. In August 1991, Bossi proposed the division of Italy into three selfgoverning and fiscally independent “macroregions”: the North, the South, and the Center. In the 1992 general elections, the LN took 8 percent of the national vote (17 percent in the North) and became Italy’s fourth largest party, with more than 50 representatives in the Chamber of Deputies. Bossi himself was the most popular candidate in the country, receiving more than 250,000 preference votes. In local elections in June 1993, the Lega Nord won the mayoral race in Milan, with over 40 percent of the poll.
   However, three factors prevented the LN from replacing the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC) as the natural home for Italy’s middle-class electorate. First, its appeal stopped at the river Po: only northern voters showed any interest in the League’s ideas. Second, in December 1993, Bossi was charged with (and eventually found guilty of) accepting an illegal donation to the party funds. The charge was trivial by comparison with the financial abuses committed by Italy’s political old guard, but the episode tarnished his claim of opposing the “money politics” of the traditional parties. Third, and most important, the rise of Silvio Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, denied the Lega Nord a firm hold on conservative, middle-class voters. The LN fought the March 1994 general elections as part of the “Liberty Pole”— the right-wing electoral alliance formed by Berlusconi in the North of Italy. In numerical terms, the LN secured slightly fewer votes than in 1992. Its parliamentary representation, however, thanks to the introduction of first-past-the-post voting, increased enormously, to more than 100 deputies and 50 senators. The League was awarded a deputy prime ministership, several key ministerial positions, and the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies, but it was soon at odds with Berlusconi and with the former fascists of the Alleanza Nazionale/National Alliance (AN). The LN, despite its strident right-wing rhetoric on social questions, is strongly opposed to the centralized, corporatist state traditionally supported by Italian Fascism. Accordingly, in December 1994, Bossi brought down the government in a vote of confidence. This move split his own party and led to a challenge to his leadership in February 1995.
   To everybody’s surprise, however, the LN was able to fight the April 1996 elections without allies and remain the largest party in Italy’s alpine regions. Overall, the party took 10 percent of the national vote and even won many electoral districts directly. Bossi celebrated this by threatening to create a new state, to be called “Padania,” from the regions of northern Italy, and in September, after a symbolic journey down the river Po, he “founded” the new republic. The initial euphoria over “Padania,” however, was the high spot of the LN’s success. Its support began to fall away in the late 1990s, and the League was forced back into an electoral alliance, the Casa delle Liberta/House of Freedoms (CDL), with Berlusconi. The League obtained less than 4 percent of the vote in the May 2001 elections and became a loyal but subordinate member of the government formed by Berlusconi after that vote. The League used its place in government to press for “devolution” of powers to the regions in the context of a wider reform of the Constitution. It was hampered, however, by Bossi’s serious illness from 2004 onward. The Italian electorate rejected the constitutional reform in a referendum held in June 2006. The LN has been increasingly tarred with the brush of political extremism in recent years. Its senior figures, including several ministers, have engaged in incendiary rhetoric against Islam and Italy’s growing immigrant population. The LN, as a result, is now widely regarded as a far-right party akin to the French Front National.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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