What you need to know about Italy’s Five Star Movement

Italy's anti-establishment Five Star movement (M5S), riding high on a first round victory in Rome's mayoral race and the second biggest political force in the country, is a broad church, lying outside the traditional left-right paradigm.

What you need to know about Italy's Five Star Movement
Italy's Five Star Movement (MS5) is now the country's second most popular political party. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Where does the movement come from?

It was founded by wild-eyed and dirty-mouthed comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009 as a radical alternative to established politicians and institutions in a country weighed down by corruption.
It eschewed traditional political channels and the media for civic lists and citizen meet-ups, embracing the expletive “vaffanculo” (“fuck off”) as a political slogan.
Co-founder Gianroberto Casaleggio, a communications entrepreneur considered the M5S's “guru” until his death in April, created a series of online platforms for “direct democracy”, and all the party's candidates are elected online.

What does it stand for?

The M5S, dubbed a protest party, is built on the dual pillars of mistrust of traditional politics and honesty of its members.
It wants greater transparency in a country weighed down by corruption, a reduction in political salaries, action in favour of the environment, a referendum on the euro, growth measures for small and medium businesses and free Internet for all.

Another Podemos or Syriza?

Although based on a similar mass rejection of the establishment as Spain's Podemos and Greece's Syriza, the M5S is not left-wing or anti-austerity.
Grillo called for a “clamp-down” on humanitarian visas for asylum seekers in 2014. And the movement withdrew its support for gay civil unions in parliament earlier this year at the last minute, despite 80 percent of its voting members favouring the bill.

How has it fared at the polls?

The M5S made a sensational debut by scooping 25 percent in the 2013 general election, becoming the second biggest political force in Italy behind the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in one swoop.
It has gone on to clinch control of small cities from Parma to Livorno and Ragusa. But it also struggles to recruit, presenting candidates for just 18 percent of the 1,368 municipalities affected by Sunday's local elections.

How is it doing in parliament?

M5S's political novices, dubbed “Grillini” after founder Grillo, are struggling to make their voices heard, particularly as the movement refuses to form any alliances with its opponents and cold-shoulders mainstream media.
Locally elected representatives are bound by a code of conduct that requires them to seek permission from the top for every important decision.
The party's anti-corruption banner has also been blackened by allegations it struck deals with local mobsters in Naples in southern Italy, while probes have been launched into the M5S mayor of Parma in the north for abuse of office and his counterpart in coastal Livorno for fraud.

Comedian Grillo, asset or burden?

Although he has officially distanced himself from politics and returned to the stand-up circuit, outspoken Grillo drew bad press last month with an off-colour joke on London's new Muslim mayor and his blog is still perceived as a voice box for the movement.
The man tipped to be his successor, 30-year-old smart-suited Luigi Di Maio, has made it clear he hopes to steal Italy's throne from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

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Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.