Talking to Five Star Movement voters in neglected suburban Naples

In a run-down suburb of Naples, dilapidated buildings lie sprawled across a vast waste land. Here in Bagnoli, like the rest of southern Italy, residents plagued by economic woes and disillusioned with traditional politics turned to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) in Italy's general election.

Talking to Five Star Movement voters in neglected suburban Naples
Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio celebrates his win is Pomigliano near Naples. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

In this hinterland, close to the hometown of charismatic M5S leader Luigi Di Maio, over 57 percent of the population voted for the populist party.

“It was a protest vote,” says 29-year old waiter Antonio Luongo. “People want change, new faces. At this point people in the south feel too let down by our politicians. Five Stars have never governed, why not give them a try?”

Bagnoli was once the lifeblood of the region's economy thanks to its booming steel industry. But in the 1990s the factories were shut down and thousands of workers laid off. The high chimneys of the old steel mill still dominate the landscape, a constant reminder of what corruption and ineffective politics have done to the town.

The former industrial site in Bagnoli pictured after a fire in 2013. Photo: Contraluce/AFP

“We're still waiting for the promised reconversion,” says Vittorio Di Capua, a former trade union representative, referring to the numerous plans proposed over the years to transform the defunct site that were never brought to fruition.

“The politicians had other things on their minds… they made so many promises… those in charge of the reconversion stole all the money,” said Di Capua.

Scourge of corruption

On election night M5S, founded in 2009, scooped up 33 percent of the national vote, becoming Italy's biggest single party.

Its vows to fight the scourge of corruption in Italian politics, and a promise of a basic universal income for Italy's poorest, particularly resonated with voters in the country's impoverished south. The party cleaned up across the region winning in almost all constituencies and ousting the old guard.

“There is a deep discontent (in the south) due to economic difficulties linked to the 2008 financial crisis which have still not been overcome,” said Leonardo Morlino, a political scientist at Rome's Luiss University.

Italy has struggled to recover from the crisis, with output still six percent lower than it was before it began and rampant unemployment. But nowhere has suffered more than the south.

READ MORE: What the election result tells us about Italy's north-south divide

Di Maio speaking in Campania after the election triumph. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

While GDP per capita was EUR34,000 ($42,000) in the country's northeast in 2016, in the south, it was just EUR18,000 ($22,300), according to Istat, the National Statistics Institute.

“Youth unemployment is extremely high in southern Italy, reaching 40 percent in some areas,” said Morlino.

Chiara Lillo, a 28-year-old working in Bagnoli's scientific centre, a modern building which stands out on the rubbish-strewn sea front, says she is lucky.

“I don't think there are many job possibilities for young people here,” she said. “I have friends, acquaintances, relatives who are out of work … I have to say many people I know turned to M5S in this election.”

'Fat cats'

M5S has promised to cut the salaries of Italy's “fat cat” politicians and redistribute wealth.

“I voted Five Stars because there are too many people in politics who earn too much and do little. Our money funds their whims and not our needs,” said Daniela Lungo, 38, a hairdresser in Bagnoli as she sheltered from the rain during her cigarette break. “We are hoping for change, for something different.”

Roberto Saviano, investigative journalist and political commentator, said the movement “has not given southern voters any solution on how to really start the economy, just banal recipes for the better use of state resources and generic promises to fight corruption.

READ ALSO: What is Italy's Five Star Movement?

The seafront in Bagnoli. Photo: Sludge G/Flickr

“But it gave them something much bigger: targets to aim at. It has capitalised on frustration, without asking for different behaviour in exchange,” he said in an editorial for national daily La Repubblica.

Falling short of an absolute majority in parliament, M5S needs to make alliances in order to govern — no easy task. But its surge in popularity on election night, above all in the south, has put it in the driving seat to form the country's future government.

“The Five Star Movement had the good fortune to have anger on its side,” said Di Capua. “Rage produced this result.”

READ ALSO: 'Anti-corruption' Five Star Movement in money scandal over missing €1 million

By Lucy Adler


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.