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Five Star Movement / Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S)

The far-right League became Italys largest party in the 26 May 2019 European parliamentary election, surging past its coalition partner the 5-Star Movement, which saw its own support slump. The vote looked certain to alter the balance of power within the deeply divided government. With well over half the ballots counted, state broadcaster RAI forecast that the League would win 33.8% of the vote against 17.7% for 5-Star an almost exact inversion of the result of national elections a year ago. Relations between the League and 5-Star deteriorated during the election campaign and there has been speculation that the coalition could collapse following the vote because of big differences over issues such as taxes and regional autonomy.

5-Star has traditionally fared better at general elections, when turnout is much higher, and it looked to have been hit on Sunday by low voter numbers in its southern Italian stronghold. We have been penalised by abstentions, especially in the south. But now we must put our heads down and work, 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said in a brief comment after the scale of the defeat became clear. The loss to the PD represented a painful blow to 5-Star and means Di Maio is likely to face pressure from party faithful not to make any major concessions to Salvini, which might further erode grass-root support.

Founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, the Italian populist M5S sees itself as the solution to problems caused by a self-interested elite. In 2013 the maverick, anti-establishment Movimento 5 Stelle, brain-child of the chaotic and shaggy-bearded stand-up comic Beppe Grillo, exploded on the Italian electoral scene, grabbing sufficient seats to force Italys established parties to form a grand coalition government to shut out the political upstarts. Despite being accident-prone and mired suddenly in scandal, the Five Star movement, or M5S, was tipped to improve on its 2013 election performance.

Launched in 2009 by the eccentric and often foul-mouthed comic and blogger Grillo, M5S rapidly attracted the support of young web-based activists who embraced the comedians idea of direct democracy, an idealistic virtual permanent town hall with citizens using the internet to have their say directly on policies, stripping decision-making from elected politicians.

He's the "enfant terrible" of Italian politics, whose one-liners made headlines throughout the election campaign. Grillo, who became famous in Italy as an actor and satirist, has been a late arrival to politics. As far as anyone knows, Grillo behaves well to women. And as far as is known, he has a normal private life. And politically, of course, Grillo represents a reaction to Berlusconi that is more likely to find supporters on the center-left.

The 64-year-old founded his party, the Five Star Movement, in 2009, though in 2007 he had already inaugurated his "Vaffa day" ("F--- Off day"), which brought tens of thousands of people out in the streets to protest against the country's leaders. He now manages one of the most successful political blogs in Italy, and boasts nearly a million Twitter followers.

They're called the "Grillini," or "the little Grillos," and it does seem as though Beppe Grillo has become a father figure to many of his supporters. Across the nation's piazzas, he has been expressing the Grillinis' anger and their disdain for the political establishment - sentiments shared by many Italians after the country's many political scandals over the past few years. And Grillo successfully used the Internet to create direct and unfiltered communication with voters.

The government enacted a byzantine electoral reform designed to favor parties willing to campaign together, or ones that are geographically concentrated, hoping to offset the growing but diffuse popularity of M5S. But public polls published before the shut-off date of February 15 - like several European countries opinion surveys are banned in the final electioneering stretch - suggest the reform will fail to snuff out a movement that not only threatened to upend the old political order but is viewed in Brussels as a menace. M5S continued to enthuse a large proportion of Italian youngsters fed up with high youth unemployment, poorly-paid short-term jobs and a culture of impunity that has allowed elites to enrich themselves and escape punishment for graft.

In March 2013 the Five Star Movement (M5S) became the third strongest political force in the country, and as no coalition had a majority of its own across both houses of parliament it seemed impossible that a government can be formed without at least its tacit approval.

The Five Star Movement made steps towards credibility as a party of governance and not just of protest. It controls many city mayoralties, most significantly in Rome, where in June 2016 Virginia Raggi became the first female to be elected to lead the city. Her term faced significant problems with resignations from key officials and the dismissal of a top aide over a row about excessive pay. For critics, this reinforced concerns about the competence of the Five Star Movement to run an administration, while Raggi's defendants pointed to Rome's problems as being caused by the corruption of past administrations and requiring more than a few months to resolve them.

Much of M5Ss staying power in the 2018 election cycle can be put down to its candidate to be prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, a suave, boyishly telegenic 31-year-old, who despite his inexperience and bare resume had done much to start the process of tempering MS5s iconoclastic image. He even rejects a populist label, seeking to broaden the movements appeal. With his coiffed hair, easy manner and well-tailored suits, hes a remarkable contrast to the movements brooding and unkempt founder. Not only does Di Maio look like the establishment politicians he says he wants to replace; he can seemingly be as slippery.

Born in the south in the town of Avellino, Di Maio's father ran a small construction business and was a neo-fascist activist. Di Maio initially studied computer science at university in Naples, then switched to law, but never completed his degree. He held down a series of short-term jobs before he was unexpectedly elected in 2013 to parliament. Some Italian commentators are skeptical that Di Maio is entirely his own man and question whether Grillo is acting as a puppet master, keen to mature the movement but not wanting to be seen as responsible for shifting it away from its more iconoclastic positions.

The party used to call for Italy to leave the EU and the euro, but Di Maio has talked about remaining in the bloc. M5S has become increasingly anti-migrant, prompting the Catholic newspaper Famiglia Cristiana to complain that he is like a surfer riding a wave. On the campaign trail, Di Maio repeatedly insisted M5S can emerge as the majority party. But in January the movement quietly shelved a stipulation that would have ruled out joining any kind of post-election coalition. And Di Maio has introduced into his speeches a new formulation, saying that in a hung parliament, he would invite other parties to support an M5S administration on a pre-agreed program. Post-election deal-making risks M5S losing its anti-establishment credentials it also risks triggering internal turmoil and even defections from the ranks of its lawmakers.





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Page last modified: 27-05-2019 18:55:05 ZULU