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POLITICS

Salvini begins Italian beach tour as political crisis looms

Matteo Salvini's summer 'Beach Tour', seen as a chance to woo voters with a view to possibly forcing early elections, got off to a bad start this week.

Salvini begins Italian beach tour as political crisis looms
Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini at a beach party on Saturday. Photo: Twitter/Dragrar32

The Italian Interior Minister and head of the far-right League party had been due to launch his five-tour from Sabaudia and Anzio, beaches on the Lazio coastline south of Rome, but cancelled both appearances at the last minute.

The “beach tour”, in which Salvini was set to chat to voters in his swimming trunks, was seen by analysts as an attempt to win votes from supporters of his party's government coalition partner, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S).

Amid repeated threats by Salvini to call an early election if his policy demands are not met by ministers, Huffington Post Italia described the summer tour as a “self-proclaimed electoral campaign, as if to bring forward the general election”.

“After all, he decides when the music stops – both in the DJ booth and the government,” Huffington Post Italia wrote.

Five Star did particularly well in the south at last year's election, but has since seen its polling numbers plunge over a series of broken promises.

On Wednesday M5S suffered an embarrassing defeat at a parliamentary vote over the TAV high-speed train link between Italy and France, which it had pledged to scrap.

TAV is just one of the major issues dividing the two ruling parties, which were always set to be uneasy coalition partners.

READ ALSO: An early general election in Italy is likely, analysts say

With observers wondering if this would be the final straw for a bickering coalition, Salvini appeared to have decided he had no choice but to swap Mojitos and beach selfies for talks over the government's future.

Asked Monday whether Italy was heading to a snap election, he replied:”We'll see soon, possibly even before September.”

He was still scheduled to hold a party rally in Sabaudia later on Wednesday, with other beach stops to follow in the coming days.

“I'm sorry he's not coming, I would have a liked a photograph with him,” said 12-year old Perla Garzia, who was at the beach in Anzio with her grandmother, a Salvini fan.

Not so grandfather Gianfranco Cervasi, 72, who was glad the deputy prime minister was not coming, slamming him and his entourage as “dangerous people”.

Salvini has spent so much time at the resort of Milano Marittima  that it has been nicknamed “Viminale Beach” after the name of the interior ministry.

And his seaside antics unfailingly generate headlines.

He landed himself in hot water last week by arranging for his 15-year-old son Federico to ride a police jet ski.

Images taken by a journalist went viral, sparking complaints he had compromised police integrity.

On Saturday he was filmed at Milano Marittima, bare-chested, cocktail in hand, at a DJ stand with the national anthem playing and dancers in low-cut swimming costumes.

Senior members of the armed forces swiftly condemned the spectacle.

Opposition politicians quickly noted the stark contrast between Salvini and Aldo Moro, two-time former prime minister, famously photographed on the beach in a suit and tie.

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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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