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ITALIAN POLITICS

Will Italy’s Five Star Movement split throw the government into crisis?

After the largest party in Italy's coalition government imploded over the country's response to the Ukraine war, Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday called for unity. Is another political crisis on the horizon?

Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi addressing the Senate on June 21st, 2022.
Italy's Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Draghi has taken a firm, pro-EU line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: sending weapons to Kyiv, backing sanctions on Moscow despite Italy’s heavy reliance on Russian gas, and supporting Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union.

But there have been rumblings of unease within his coalition government, which burst into the open on Tuesday with a split in parliament’s biggest party, the Five Star Movement.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving the party amid disagreements over how Italy should respond to the Ukraine war.

An estimated 60 lawmakers are following him into his breakaway group, named “Together for the Future” – just over a quarter of Five Star’s MPs.

READ ALSO: Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

The move risks upsetting the fragile balance of power in Draghi’s coalition government, a year before general elections are due and at a difficult time for Italians battling skyrocketing inflation.

A vote on Wednesday suggested parliament still overwhelmingly backs the premier, with the lower Chamber of Deputies approving by 410 to 29 a resolution supporting the Ukraine policy.

The Senate similarly approved it on Tuesday.

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

“Unity is essential in these moments because the decisions that must be taken are very difficult,” Draghi said before Wednesday’s result, which came one day before an EU summit in Brussels begins.

In an uncharacteristically combative address to deputies, Draghi accused those who disagreed with his policy of effectively calling on Kyiv to surrender.

“There is a fundamental difference between two points of view. One is mine – Ukraine must defend itself, and sanctions and the sending of weapons serve this goal,” Draghi said to applause.

“The other point of view is different. Ukraine must not defend itself, we shouldn’t do sanctions, we shouldn’t send armaments, Russia is too strong, why should we take her on, let Ukraine submit.”

Di Maio had made a similar attack on members of his own party at the weekend, paving the way for Tuesday’s defection.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte, the country’s former premier, has argued that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution, warning against getting involved in an escalating arms race.

Conte and Di Maio have been at odds since long before the war, however.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte stressed that his party still backed the coalition, saying: “Support for Draghi is not up for discussion.”

Nevertheless, some commentators believe Draghi’s coalition government – involving all main political parties except the far-right Brothers of Italy – will start to splinter ahead of 2023 elections.

The Five Star split is likely to weigh on “the entire political system, starting with Draghi, who is now more shaky than before,” wrote La Stampa columnist Marcello Sorgi.

The defections in Five Star leave the anti-immigration League of Matteo Salvini as the biggest party in parliament, but it too is struggling with waning public support.

Media reports this week suggest this could work in Giorgia Meloni’s favour in the next election – the far-right Brothers of Italy leader is now being touted as potentially becoming the country’s first female prime minister, as her party remains the only one in opposition to Draghi’s coalition.

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PROTESTS

IN PICTURES: Thousands in Italy march for peace in Ukraine

Tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome on Saturday calling for peace in Ukraine and urging Italy to stop sending of weapons to fight the Russian invasion.

IN PICTURES: Thousands in Italy march for peace in Ukraine

“No to war. No to sending weapons”, read one large banner carried by protesters, as a vast crowd broke into cries of “give peace a chance”.

People marching on November 5, 2022 in Rome holding a banner reading “Total disarmament and peace now”. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Nato founding member Italy has supported Ukraine from the start of the war, including providing it with arms.

A man takes part in the national peace demonstration by Italian civil society organisations working together in the Europe for Peace coalition, holding a placard reading “no more war, weapons and propaganda”. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

New far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said that will not change and the government has said it is expecting to send more weapons soon.

But some, including former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, have said Italy should be stepping up negotiations instead.

Leader of Italian populist Five Star movement M5S (Movimento Cinque Stelle), Giuseppe Conte (C) marches on November 5, 2022 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The peace rally was attended by some 30,000 people, Rome police told Italian media.

“The weapons were sent at the beginning on the grounds that this would prevent an escalation,” demonstrator Roberto Zanotto told AFP.

People hold banners and placards at the march on November 5, 2022 in Rome. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Nine months later and it seems to me that there’s been an escalation. Look at the facts: sending weapons does not help stop a war, weapons help fuel a war.”

Student Sara Gianpietro said the conflict was being dragged out by arming Ukraine, which “has economic consequences for our country, but for the respect of human rights too”.

The Group of Seven foreign ministers, including Italy, on Friday vowed to continue supporting Ukraine in the fight against Russia.

READ ALSO: Q&A: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

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