ITALY: a rupture in the Five Stars Movement

On June 21st, fifty deputies and ten senators announced their definitive rupture with the “Five Star Movement” (MoVimento 5 Stelle, M5S) and the launch of a new parliamentary group “Together for the future” (Insieme per il Futuro, IpF). The split led by Luigi di Maio, the current minister of foreign affairs and former M5S leader, was triggered by the recent disagreements on the party line regarding the government’s policies, particularly over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yet the tensions between di Maio and the current M5S leader Giuseppe Conte were high back in January when the two diverged on the candidate to support as the next Italian president.

As an immediate result of this fission, M5S lost its position as the largest parliamentary party group (PPG) in the lower chamber to the League (remaining the largest in the Senate, though) and a few Ministers in the current government. Seen in a longer perspective, however, the rupture may lead to the decline of the Five Stars Movement and possibly to the decay of the populist appeal in Italy.

Born as an anti-establishment, post-ideological civic movement in 2009, M5S disrupted the long-standing duopoly between centre-left and centre-right coalitions and has become one of the crucial actors in Italian politics. It was in opposition as the second largest party in the country following a striking success in the 2013 parliamentary elections with 25.6% of the vote, and entered the government after winning the largest number of seats as an individual party (32.7% of the vote) in the 2018 general contest. However, this identity shift from a protest to the mainstream (and ruling) party and incoherent programmatic offer have increasingly disappointed its voters, as reflected by the systematic drop in public support, further confirmed by M5S poor performance at the most recent local elections.

Although the most striking in terms of magnitude and consequences, the split of the Di Maio’s group is just the latest manifestation of the party’s internal turmoil. Since the beginning of the term in 2018, M5S has been affected by various instability events, which have cost it almost 50% of parliamentarians (162 out of 339 in both chambers). These include individual and collective exits to the Mixed Group (i.e. independents), defections to existing PPGs, and splits to new – more or less durable – breakaway PPGs (e.g., Alternativa in February 2021).

The creation of the “Together for the future” PPG results from a multi-party split. Besides fifty M5S deputies, its creation also involved one MP from the “Courage Italy” (Coraggio Italia, CI) PPG. His departure, preceded by an exit of another MP to the Mixed Group, led to the collapse of the CI group (as it fell below the twenty deputies required for a PPG to exist) and, eventually, to a rupture within the party. Among eighteen formally independent deputies, seven have remained party members and have established a componente politica (a subgroup within the Mixed Group composed of at least ten – or under certain circumstances three – deputies), while eleven MPs left the party and launched a separate subgroup, “Vinciamo Italia – Italia al Centro con Toti.” 

In the words of its political leadership, “Together for the future” is a ‘strictly parliamentary creature’ and, thus, will not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections under its current name or in its current form. Instead, the defectors intend to build a party ‘on the ground’ relying on regional/local political structures, with a different name and an anti-populist identity. However, experts remain unconvinced of di Maio’s ability to launch a new party very shortly before the next general election (due no later than on June 1st, 2023) and attract voters, as the latest opinion poll indicated a drop in support for the IpF from around 2.5% to 0.7%. Therefore, at the moment, its prospects remain considerably worse than those of the Five Stars Movement.

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