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22 Jan, 2020 17:39

Five Star leader Di Maio steps down as shaky Italian coalition seeks to avoid snap election

Five Star leader Di Maio steps down as shaky Italian coalition seeks to avoid snap election

Luigi Di Maio has resigned as leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in a step that will shake up Italian politics and prompt fears of a snap election after months of internal party dissent and coalition infighting.

“It is time to rebuild,” Di Maio said in a speech in Rome confirming his departure as M5s leader. He added that he had worked to grow the movement “and protect it from the profiteers and traps along the way,” but “I have completed my task” and others must now step in to take on the role. 

Despite his resignation, Di Maio insisted he remains fully committed to the party, and said the government “must go on” and have time to fix “the mess made by those who governed for 30 years before.”

Earlier, ministers of the co-governing Five Star Movement (M5S) met to discuss strategy ahead of crucial regional elections in Emilia Romagna and Calabria, where the party is expected to face defeat to the right-wing League party led by Matteo Salvini.

The 33-year-old insurgent politician is expected to remain on as foreign minister for the coalition government which looks to be on increasingly shaky ground. 

M5S won more than a third of the vote in national elections in 2018, allowing it to enter into a rocky coalition government with Salvini’s League, but Di Maio’s popularity has been waning since then. 

He regularly clashed with Salvini, who ultimately left government leaving Di Maio to form an alternative and similarly uncomfortable coalition with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) — a move intended to avoid snap elections which Salvini had hoped to use to capitalize on the League’s rising support.

“Di Maio’s departure doesn’t spell anything bad for M5S as he’s only 33, he’s young,” Russian-Italian political observer Evgeny Utkin told RT. “There have been mistakes but he’s learnt from them.”

In the meantime, the movement has been consistently losing votes, and the coming regional election in Emilia-Romagna will be “a litmus test” for them. If M5S fail to hold their ground and lose to the right-wing Lega Nord, then “Salvini might tell the government to resign.” But until that happens, one should not expect an outright resignation, the expert added.

Recent polls put M5S at around 16 percent and lawmakers have been abandoning the party in their droves. More than 30 have left Five Star’s parliamentary group since the government was formed in September, with some leaving voluntarily and others being expelled — and many of those who remain have been eager for a change in leadership and worried about a party split. Meanwhile, the League is polling at around 31 percent, while PD is polling at 19 percent and warning its coalition partner to get its act together.

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Di Maio was criticized by the M5S founder for seeming to pick fights with his coalition partners, Bloomberg reported. He has also been criticized for taking on too much by attempting to fulfill the roles of foreign minister and party leader simultaneously.

During his speech on Wednesday evening, Di Maio confirmed that Vito Crimi, head of the internal rules committee, will stand in as caretaker leader until a new leader is chosen in the coming months.

The ruling M5S and PD will now seek to avoid a coalition collapse, as a snap election triggered by Di Maio’s departure could ultimately see Salvini’s League sweep to victory and into power.

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