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Italy’s Five Star Movement celebrates victory in leader’s hometown

Rapturous applause welcomed Luigi Di Maio, the charismatic leader of Italy's triumphant anti-establishment Five Star Movement, in his hometown on Tuesday, even as supporters pondered how the party could come to power.

Italy's Five Star Movement celebrates victory in leader's hometown
Leader Luigi Di Maio celebrates his election triumph in Pomigliano. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Hundreds cheered Di Maio in Pomigliano d'Arco, an industrial town near Naples, as the beaming 31-year-old stepped on the stage under the rain.

“We have made history,” Di Maio told the crowd after his party scooped up almost 33 percent of the vote to become Italy's single biggest party, although it fell short of an overall majority to be able to form a government. In Pomigliano, where the party won 65 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, Di Maio was greeted with a sea of yellow balloons — the colour of the Five Star Movement.

“We won this election, we are the absolute winners,” he said.

Is Italy's Five Star Movement still an 'anti-establishment' party?
Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

But the maverick party, which only entered parliament for the first time in 2013, would need the support of other parties in order to be able to govern. The issues is sensitive though — any perception of cosy deals with other parties risks alienating its core support from Italians angered by traditional politics.

“They have to make alliances to be able to govern,” said Arleta Fabricatore a 45-year old teacher. “We don't mind who they align themselves with as long as what they propose gets done.”

The movement has called for a universal basic income scheme, a cut in income tax, a raise in pensions and a programme to slash Italy's infamous red tape for businesses.

READ MORE: These are the promises Italy's political parties have made to voters

'PD is the only option'

Two scenarios outlined in recent days are a deal with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) or with the far-right anti-immigration League party, which came out top in a right-wing alliance that won 37 percent of the vote.

“It's a complex issue,” said office worker Luca Carosella, 38. “We have to find a party to work with. In my personal opinion the Democratic Party looks like the more likely option, I can't see (League leader Matteo) Salvini giving up his strong position in the right-wing coalition.”

Carmine Petito, a 70-year-old pensioner said: “The PD is the only option”.

He ruled out a deal with 81-year-old former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a member of the right-wing alliance, calling him “an old has-been”.

READ ALSO: Is the Five Star Movement still 'anti-establishment'?

“There would be some common ground with Salvini, but who would take the leading role?” Petito said.

An alliance remains a controversial issue for the party's core supporters though.

“We need to be clear about one thing,” said Carosella. “Even if they enter into a majority government with another political party, it would absolutely not be an alliance.

“It would just be asking another political force to support M5S ideas… There would be no question of making concessions.”

By Lucy Adler

ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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