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POLITICS

Italy’s government risks collapse after Five Star sits out key vote

Prime Minister Mario Draghi's coalition government teetered on the brink of collapse Thursday, after the Five Star Movement refused to participate in a confidence vote, raising the spectre of a snap general election.

Far-right Lega party leader and Italian Senator Matteo Salvini reacts in the Senate hall before a vote of confidence to the prime minister at Palazzo Madama in Rome, on July 14, 2022.
Far-right Lega party leader and Italian Senator Matteo Salvini reacts in the Senate hall before a vote of confidence to the prime minister at Palazzo Madama in Rome, on July 14, 2022. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The Five Star Movement (M5S), headed by former premier Giuseppe Conte, is a formerly anti-establishment party that has plummeted in the polls and lost parliamentarians since joining the government, hurt by policy U-turns and internal divisions.

The decision to sit out the vote – which political experts say is a tactical attempt to win back grassroots support – could push Draghi’s already fractured coalition to collapse, and even force early national elections later in the year.

“We are not taking part in the vote on this measure today… but this position of ours is not about confidence in the government,” said, Mariolina Castellone, the leader of M5S in the Senate.

The government survived the confidence vote, but Draghi had previously warned on multiple occasions he would not carry on as premier without M5S support.

Draghi, who has stated on multiple occasions there will be no government without M5S, called a cabinet meeting directly after the vote.

The prime minister had previously shown signs of losing patience with squabbling between parties, saying on Tuesday he would step down as prime minister if M5S quits the coalition.

“For me there is no government without Five Star,” Draghi said at a press conference on Tuesday. “There is no Draghi government different from the current one.”

The vote was called on an aid package worth about 23 billion euros, designed to help Italians deal with soaring energy bills and rising inflation.

But it also included a provision to allow a garbage incinerator to be built in Rome – something M5S has long opposed.

Analysts suggested the beleaguered party was not trying to collapse the government but attempting to win back some of its lost support by doubling down on its principles ahead of the scheduled 2023 general election.

Lorenzo Codogno, a professor at the London School of Economics, said the abstention would usher in “a new political phase”.

“Draghi would have no choice but to resign,” he told AFP.

Nervous investors sent the Milan stock exchange down three percent.

– Five Star tensions –

Since winning legislative elections in 2018 with an unprecedented third of the vote, M5S has been losing support and risks being wiped out in national elections scheduled for next year.

Last month the party – which had represented the largest in parliament – split, with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio starting a breakaway group, ‘Together for the Future’, and taking a quarter of M5S parliamentarians with him.

Conte, whose party is now polling at 11 percent of the vote, is trying to bring more visibility to M5S ahead of elections.

Codogno said he did not believe that Conte was seeking to bring down the government, but that his party “wants to make headlines and make gains in the polls again by running opposition as if it were not in government”.

The far-right has seized on the tensions, with the leader of the League party within the governing coalition, Matteo Salvini, saying on Wednesday that if M5S were to sit out the vote, new elections should be called.

“I think there is nothing left for Draghi but to go to Mattarella and resign,” Franco Pavoncello, a professor of political science at Rome’s John Cabot University, told AFP.

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POLITICS

Italy’s hard-right PM will not back down on reporter defamation trial

Italian PM Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italy's hard-right PM will not back down on reporter defamation trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.

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