Is the party over for Italy’s populist chief?

Founder of the Five Star Movement (M5S), Italian comedian and political activist Beppe Grillo (C) speaks as M5S prominent figure, Italian entrepreneur and political activist Davide Casaleggio (3rdL) and Head of M5S, Italy’s Labor and Industry Minister and deputy PM Luigi Di Maio (2ndR) react at the end of a convention of the governing coalition's populist movement on October 21, 2018 in Rome. ( AFP / Alberto Pizzoli)
Updated 01 November 2018
0

Is the party over for Italy’s populist chief?

  • This weekend, furious M5S voters were burning the movement’s flag over broken electoral promises
  • Deputy PM Matteo Salvini's The League now boasts 31 percent of voter intentions, while M5S has 27 percent, polls this week show

ROME: His was a stellar rise to the top, leading Italy’s populists into power for the first time and becoming essentially the nation’s joint chief: but angel-faced Luigi Di Maio’s fortunes have since taken a tumble.
One month ago, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) took to the balcony of the seat of government to cry victory over a budget drawn up with his unlikely coalition partner, the far-right League.
He toasted the win with a party for his team on a boat on Rome’s Tevere or Tiber river.
Yet this weekend, furious M5S voters were burning the movement’s flag over broken electoral promises.
Di Maio’s difficulties are thrown into sharp relief by the success of his co-deputy prime minister, League head Matteo Salvini, a far more experienced politician with a fondness for whipping up racial intolerance and a savvy social media team.
Salvini, 45, is the uncontested head of a united party, while Di Maio, 32, is struggling to keep rebellious factions in line. Under the movement’s rules, this is also the last term he can serve, rendering him a de facto lame-duck leader.
Five Star became Italy’s largest party at the March elections, winning nearly 33 percent of the vote, while the League fell in as its junior coalition partner with 17 percent.
But the noise of champagne corks popping had barely died away when the League began gaining popularity, shooting into the lead while M5S flagged.
The League now boasts 31 percent of voter intentions, while M5S has 27 percent, polls this week show. Salvini is the country’s most popular politician, with 58 percent compared to Di Maio’s 51 percent, according to Ipsos Italia.
“The League leader provides positive answers to his world’s needs... while the Five Star sends a negative message: ‘We want to (act), but others won’t allow us’,” commentator Stefano Folli wrote in the Repubblica.
Both leaders have fought with Brussels over the budget, but when Di Maio accused European Central Bank head Mario Draghi of attacking Italy, even the Fatto Quotidiano daily — which usually defends the movement — slammed his “infantilism and incompetence.”
Di Maio is being “hampered by the climate of uncertainty,” Leonardo Morlino, political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, told AFP.
“The movement made promises it really wants to keep. He’s struggling,” he said.
With his boyish grin looking increasingly strained, Di Maio has called for unity within his movement after a series of about-turns on pledges, particularly in the south, where the party won much of its support.
The M5S had vowed to close Ilva, one of Europe’s most polluting steel plants, but Di Maio has kept it open.
Last week he rowed back on a pledge to halt an international gas transport project, saying it would cost too much to abandon the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) at this late stage.
“Di Maio keeps promises. Not his own, but those of (former premiers Silvio) Berlusconi and (Matteo) Renzi,” quipped political observer Mattia Feltri.
The Neapolitan can boast one victory: while he has been obliged to back a tax amnesty demanded by the League, he managed to get Salvini to water it down by removing a clause regarding overseas funds.
His claim an “unidentified hand” had tried to tweak the deal behind his back had sparked ridicule on social media.
All eyes are now on the controversial TAV high-speed rail link to connect Turin with Lyon in France. The movement has long opposed it, but the League is for.
Di Maio has denied the movement is in crisis, though analysts say a go-ahead on the TAV could be a killer blow.
He urged Five Star on Monday to close ranks, just as Roman soldiers used to lock shields to keep out enemy arrows — though his appeal prompted more mockery after Twitter users spotted similarities between his rallying words and a Wikipedia entry.
“I’m scared to see what Italy is becoming,” 94-year old Rossana Rossanda, journalist and partisan, told the Repubblica daily.
The man who scares her, however, is “Salvini, because he knows what he wants. Di Maio is just always there, smiling.”


Three Ethiopian students killed in ethnic clashes: government

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has received international praise for his reformist agenda. (Reuters)
Updated 38 min 38 sec ago
0

Three Ethiopian students killed in ethnic clashes: government

ADDIS ABABA: Three Ethiopian students were killed and 34 injured after a fight on a campus escalated into deadly ethnic clashes in the west of the Horn of Africa country, the government said on Wednesday.
The unrest broke out on Tuesday after a fight at Assoa University erupted into wider violence between groups of students, Minister of Science and Higher Education Hirut Woldemariam said, quoted by Fana Broadcasting Corporate, which is close to the state.
While Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has received international praise for his reformist agenda, a wave of intercommunal violence — mostly over land issues — has marred the first few months of his rule.
The minister did not give details about how the three students died or say to which ethnic groups they belonged. But activists on social media said fighting was between students from the country’s two main ethnic groups, Oromo and Amhara.
“The unrest degenerated into deadly clashes because of the interference of forces intent on causing chaos,” the minister said without giving any further details.
She said scores of people suspected of being involved in the clashes were arrested and university officials, local elders and student organizations were trying to ease tensions.
Ethiopia’s higher education institutions have been a center of dissent since the 1960s and helped overthrow the last Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974. Universities are often the site of ethnic, political and religious clashes.
Last month, at least 44 people were killed in fighting between rival ethnic groups in western Ethiopia when youths armed with rocks and knives forced thousands of people to flee their homes until security forces were deployed to calm the area.