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Today in Italian politics: A museum, Masons and missing millions

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Today in Italian politics: A museum, Masons and missing millions
Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP
18:04 CET+01:00
In the run-up to the Italian general election on March 4th, we'll be bringing you a daily round up of who's done what and why in the fast-moving world of Italian politics.

Days to go until Italy votes: 19

Here's what's happened over the past few days. Remember to check The Local Italy's homepage daily for the latest recaps as we approach the election.

(Pssst: need a primer? Click HERE for The Local's full election coverage, including who's who in Italian politics and how the winners will be decided.)

THE HEADLINES

  • Coalition? What coalition?

The centre-left has an alliance with the further left. The centre-right has an alliance with the (much) further right. The Five Star Movement has no alliance. But with any one faction unlikely to get an outright majority, everyone has always expected Italy's next government to be Frankenstein-ed together out of disparate parts.

As speculation swirls about just which parts might (sort of) fit together, Matteo Renzi of the centre-left Democratic Party said today he wouldn't consider governing with "extremists". He's talking about you, Matteo Salvini of the Northern League, and you, Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy – both of them part of a team with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

That won't bother Meloni at least, who said she'd never join a government with either the Democrats or the Five Star Movement. We'll see who remembers what when the horse-trading begins after March 4th.   

  • Berlusconi's coalition partners want him to announce his PM candidate

The centre-right coalition that's currently leading the polls has not yet named a candidate for PM, and the junior allies aren't too pleased about that.

A major reason for this is that Silvio Berlusconi, who put together the alliance, is currently barred from holding political office himself due to a tax fraud conviction. He's appealing it, but is unlikely to get a result before the election, preventing the billionaire for running for a fifth term as PM.


Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

"I would consider it an act of clarity from Forza Italia to say before the vote who the candidate for premier is. I'll reiterate that to Berlusconi in the coming days," Giorgia Meloni said on a live Facebook broadcast by the Ansa news agency.

Matteo Salvini has made no secret of who he'd like to see as PM. The official logo of his party, the Northern League, is now accompanied by the new slogan ‘Salvini premier' and he has launched the website SalviniPremier.it, which features two photos of himself as well as an auto-playing video.

The names swirling around as possible FI candidates are Gianni Letta, a close advisor to Berlusconi and former TV presenter; President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani; and former Italian police commander Leonardo Gallitelli.

To be fair, Berlusconi has been clear about what he's looking for in the right candidate, previously telling an Italian TV show: "Someone like Silvio Berlusconi comes to mind." 

  • The Five Star Movement and the missing €1 million

The leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) spent the day reviewing bank records with an investigative reporter, after TV show Le Iene claimed that members of the anti-establishment group haven't been keeping their promise to renounce a hefty chunk of their parliamentary salaries and expenses.

The show alleged that between them, M5S members of parliament could have pocketed up to €1 million that should have been donated to a microcredit fund for small businesses. Of course, this looks pretty terrible for a movement that prides itself on challenging corruption.

One of the founding principles of M5S is that its electees would take home no more than €5,000 a month of what the taxpayer was paying them. At least two of its election candidates have been found to have faked repayments, leading the party to drop them. But if Le Iene's sources are to be believed, those two are just the tip of the iceberg. 

In an effort to prove them wrong, the M5S leader, Luigi Di Maio, showed journalists reams of bank transfers that he and other lawmakers have made. He says that any "bad apples" will be rooted out – but with two and a half weeks to go before voting day, time is tight. 

  • 'Game over' for M5S candidate with Freemason links

The missing million isn't the only problem facing the M5S. Luigi Di Maio said on Monday that one of the party's candidates for the Chamber of Deputies (the Lower House of Parliament), would be kicked out of the party for links to the Freemasons.

Catello Vitiello had been a candidate in Campania, but local paper Il Mattino revealed he had been a member of a Masonic Lodge known as The Sphinx. The M5S has frequently criticized the influence of the Freemasons on politics, and Di Maio said it was "game over" for Vitiello after the revelation.

Vitiello responded in a Facebook post, saying Freemasonry was "a hobby" he had now given up. He still plans to run for the Lower House.

  • Turin's Egyptian Museum has become a flashpoint for the far-right

The Egyptian Museum in Turin, northern Italy, houses one of the largest collections of Egyptian artefacts outside Cairo, and in January, the museum began offering discounts for Arabic speakers. 


Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Matteo Salvini of the Northern League called the promotion "racist against Italians" last month, and on Friday Giorgia Meloni, who leads the Brothers of Italy (that's the smallest of three parties in the centre-right coalition) led a protest outside the museum. Meloni carried a banner reading 'No Islamization' and said: "There is racism in Italy, against Italians". 

It's worth noting that the offer for Arabic speakers is not the only discount offered by the museum. Students enter for free on Thursdays and couples will also benefit from a two-for-one offer on Valentine's Day. Museum director Christian Greco explained this to Meloni during her protest, and he's since received support from the Culture Minister and the museum board.

Meanwhile, the Brothers of Italy's communications director has been forced to backpedal after comments which were interpreted as threatening Greco's position. Meloni said that these reports were "a hoax" created by the left.

  • Mussolini loses honorary citizenship

The town of Mantua in northern Italy has revoked the honorary citizenship of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, the Gazzetta di Mantova reports.

There was some debate over the motion, with president of the council Massimo Allegretti saying it would be "anachronistic", but it was passed.


Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

This comes amidst fierce discussion over the revival of fascism in Italy, after a far-right sympathizer shot six immigrants in a xenophobic attack in early February. The suspected shooter has a fascist-inspired tattoo and left a Mussolini votive candle before waiting to be arrested, and anti-fascism rallies were held in Macerata (where the attack took place) and across Italy in response to the shooting.

IN DEPTH: Is the Five Star Movement still 'anti-establishment'?

We took an in-depth look at how Italy's Five Star Movement has changed in the five years since it stunned observers by scooping 25 percent of the vote in the last general election. Since then, they've won control of more cities and are campaigning hard for the March election. This has meant increased scrutiny of their rules, candidates, and policies.

So does the anti-establishment label still fit? Read more HERE.

NUMBER OF THE DAY: 47

That's the percentage Matteo Salvini says he and his allies are going for. "At least" 47 percent, actually. He made the quip at the Sanremo Music Festival, Italy's second-most important contest this spring. He and his partner were there earlier this week taking a carefully staged "break" from the campaign trail.

Salvini said he was aiming to prove as popular with Italian voters as Sanremo is with TV audiences, who watch it in their millions. If the centre-right gets anywhere close to that figure on March 4th, political pundits will be eating their hats; Salvini, meanwhile, said he'd be singing Vasco Rossi's sax-heavy '80s anthem, Liberi Liberi. 

By Catherine Edwards and Jessica Phelan

 

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