Italian foreign minister seeks ‘freedom’ in party rift

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announced Friday that he has quit the steering committee of the Five Star Movement (M5S), the biggest party in parliament, saying "I want my freedom".

Italy's Foreign Affairs minister Luigi Di Maio
Italy's Foreign Affairs minister Luigi Di Maio has said he wants the freedom to speak out against Five Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte.  Fred TANNEAU / AFP

He had chaired the committee which ensures the once anti-establishment party’s statutes are respected, and validates candidacies for national and local elections.

“In recent days the internal debate has degenerated. They started talking about splits, trials, pillorying. They tried to target and discredit my person,” Di Maio said in a Facebook post.

“I want the freedom to raise my hand and say what is wrong or what could be improved. We win and we lose together because we are a community based on pluralism of ideas, especially in this difficult moment for the Five Star Movement,” he added.

In particular the foreign minister wants the freedom to speak out against M5S leader and former premier Giuseppe Conte.

The two men have been at loggerheads in recent weeks over the presidential election, after the failure of the party’s candidate Elisabetta Bettoni, who had been proposed by Conte.

Incumbent President Sergio Mattarella gained re-election and was sworn in Thursday for a second term, after parliament begged him to stay on to stave off a looming political crisis.

READ ALSO: Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella sworn in for second term

Italian media commented at length on Di Maio’s loud applause in the Chamber of Deputies when Mattarella won an absolute majority for a new seven-year term.

The foreign minister had warned that the M5S leaders would have to answer to activists and he now wants a free hand to confront his internal opponent.

“I have decided to resign from the Guarantee Committee of the Five Star Movement,” wrote  Di Maio in a letter addressed to Conte.

Opinion polls suggest Di Maio could come out on top in the party struggle.

A series of four polls conducted after the presidential election at the end of January, showed the movement stagnating at 13-15 percent of the popular vote.

Conte is credited with only 36 percent of favourable opinions, compared to over 50 percent six months ago.

Meanwhile, Di Maio has received the support of several party deputies and activists on social networks.

Born in 2009, the M5S is an atypical movement in terms of its organisation and ideology, neither right nor left, and has built itself as an alternative to the “establishment” parties, but its transformation into a governing party is creating recurrent internal tensions.

READ ALSO: President Mattarella, the reluctant hero in Italy’s crisis

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Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.