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
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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.”


Philippine Senators oppose president’s push to lower criminal age to 9

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks in front of housewives and mothers, that participate in the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the provincial government and Duterte's war on drugs at Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga province, Philippines December 22, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Philippine Senators oppose president’s push to lower criminal age to 9

  • International organizations have expressed alarm, including UNICEF and Save the Children, while domestic activists said children should be protected from criminals

MANILA: Senators in the Philippines on Tuesday joined activists and child protection groups in condemning a lower house move to reduce the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine, calling it extreme and unjust.
The proposal has President Rodrigo Duterte’s support and is being revived by his Congressional allies, having been filed on his inauguration day in 2016 along with a bid to re-introduce the death penalty — moves touting his crime-busting credentials.
The plan was approved on Monday by the lower house’s justice committee, but still needs several readings before a house vote. It would then require counterpart legislation and approval of the Senate, members of which appear less supportive.
“It is anti-family, anti-poor and simply unjust. Moreover, it will promote a heartless and ruthless society that has no regard for its own people,” said Antonio Trillanes, one of Duterte’s biggest critics.
Risa Hontiveros said the idea went against Philippines’ international commitments and a global trend of raising, not lowering, the criminal age.
“Why do we want to slide back to the minimum, or even below the minimum? Is this a race to the bottom?” she told a Senate hearing.
Duterte campaigned aggressively on eliminating crime, drugs and corruption and has said he has since realized they were all on a greater scale than he had imagined.
Despite a war on drugs that has killed thousands of people and graft-related scandals and resignations of his own appointees, Duterte has not lost his lustre among Filipinos, who polls show back his morality-centered approach to law and order.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said nine was too young, but he supported lowering the age “to a certain level.” Joel Villanueva said the bill needed a rethink, to target parents more.
“Children in general have different levels of maturity and discernment,” he added.
International organizations have expressed alarm, including UNICEF and Save the Children, while domestic activists said children should be protected from criminals, not held liable for things they were forced to do.
Agnes Callamard, a United Nations special rapporteur who has frequently locked horns with Duterte, called it a “dangerous and potentially deadly proposal. Just shameful.”
Justice committee chairman Salvador Leachon, however, said the bill was misunderstood, and was rehabilitation-centered, and “pro-children,” with non-compliant parents the ones who would go to jail.
“The point here is there is no punishment,” he told news channel ANC. “It’s rehabilitation, reformative, taking care of the family.”