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Today in Italian politics: Five Star problems, surreal debates, and a Berlusconi burn

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Today in Italian politics: Five Star problems, surreal debates, and a Berlusconi burn
Laura Boldrini debates Matteo Salvini on La 7 (screengrab).
17:07 CET+01:00
In the run-up to the Italian general election on March 4th, The Local is 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: 18

Catch up on yesterday's recap here, or have a look through all our election coverage so far here.

If you're feeling as out of your depth as this poor pizza, read on.


  • M5S corruption scandal rumbles on

As we reported yesterday, the Five Star Movement, which campaigns on an anti-establishment, anti-corruption platform, is facing accusations of corruption over a missing €1 million. M5S candidates all agreed not to take home more than €5,000 of their monthly taxpayer-funded salary, but investigative reports showed at least two candidates faked repayments, and a total of more than €1 million was missing.

Party leader Luigi Di Maio wants us to focus on the money that did get donated to their entrepreneur fund. "I was wrong to trust the human being, but there's time to remedy this." With just 18 days left until election day, not that much time.

Di Maio has also made public the names of the ten candidates found guilty of pocketing the cash.

Read more here.

  • Debate time: Boldrini versus Salvini in a war of the hashtags

In the first TV debate of the campaign, President of the Lower House Laura Boldrini (left) went up against Matteo Salvini of the Northern League (right) last night.

Neither pulled their punches. Salvini called Boldrini "incompetent and racist", while she accused him of relying on immigration as "the goose that lays the golden eggs" and wanting to take the country backwards. Immigration was the main topic, with a nod to women's equality and the economy.

There were also some surreal moments when each candidate held up sheets of paper bearing sarcastic hashtags while the other spoke. And Salvini apologized – with a smirk – for some of the sexist abuse that Boldrini has suffered at the hands of Northern League party faithful, including him when he compared her to a blow-up sex doll.

Who won? Hard to say, but with the tone that combative it seems unlikely either side's supporters would have crossed the deeply entrenched divide. 

  • Economic growth at seven-year high

One of the big worries ahead of the election is that instability could undo some of the country's tentative economic progress.

Italy's GDP rose by 1.4 percent in 2017, the highest level since 2010, according to a preliminary estimate released on Wednesday.

Good news for the Democratic Party government, even if it's slightly below its 1.5 percent forecast. But so far the PD has struggled to focus voters' attention on its economic achievements while the debate over immigration blazes on. 

  • Government calls Macerata attack 'terrorism' 

"Let's stop talking about a madman in Macerata. When someone shoots people to kill, people of colour, that person is committing an act of terrorism." 

So said Justice Minister Andrea Orlando today, in reference to the shooting in central Italy 11 days ago in which a fascist sympathizer targeted six black people in apparent revenge for the death of a woman who was found dismembered, allegedly by one or more Nigerian men. The attack continues to loom large over the campaign, which has seen the right take an even harsher tone towards immigrants in Italy. The centre-left government, meanwhile, has set out its stall on the opposite side, warning against reviving Italy's fascist past.

  • Giorgia Meloni assaulted on campaign trail

In a sign of just how high tempers are running, Giorgia Meloni, who leads the Brothers of Italy party (the third and smallest party in Berlusconi's coalition) was harassed on the campaign trail on the Tuscan coast on Tuesday.

Protesters sang the anti-fascist song Bella Ciao and carried slogans including 'Livorno doesn't want fascists'. Later, protesters spat at the party leader and one person threw a bottle, striking her on the face. 

  • Bridge-building

No, this isn't more news about potential alliances after the vote.

Silvio Berlusconi has renewed an old pledge to build a bridge between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Plans between the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria have been mooted since the 1960s, often by politicians keen to drum up some support in the south. Berlusconi has been one of the top supporters.

Matteo Renzi, the former centre-left PM, revived the idea more than once during his time in the top job.

"The situation in Sicily is in agony," Berlusconi said on Wednesday. The bridge would be just the first step in his plan to help out the south, followed by a long-term 'Marshall Plan' to pump money into the region.

  • Pro-migrant guerilla art

If you're in Cagliari, you might see some election posters with an unusual twist: instead of showing political candidates or slogans, they display the faces of local foreign-born residents. The posters, with the slogan 'Vota per me' (Vote for me) have been put alongside official campaign posters, each telling the story of a migrant living and working in the Sardinian capital, and aims to give a voice to Italy's foreign-born population – many of whom do not have the vote.

Immigration has been a hot-button issue in the election, with far-right parties expected to perform well.

IN-DEPTH: Why is Silvio Berlusconi still here? 

One of the questions we get asked the most is how an 81-year-old best known for a sex scandal and banned from office over tax fraud is still a driving force in Italian politics. 

The short answer is: because, Italy. The longer and more accurate one involves his own political acumen, the state of his rivals, and what Italian voters feel they're missing. 

Read it in full here

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "To think that a 31-year-old kid who's never worked could take charge of the government of this country is a joke."

Guess who said it? None other than our resident grandpa, Silvio Berlusconi. He was referring to the M5S's Luigi Di Maio, a mind-boggling 50 years his junior. "That's why I took the field," the wry old Cavaliere added. 

via Tenor

Did we miss something?

If there are any areas of Italian politics you'd like The Local to explain or take an in-depth look at, get in touch at news.italy@thelocal.it, or via Facebook or Twitter.


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