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Italy’s Five Star Movement votes whether to ditch leader Luigi Di Maio

Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) will vote Thursday on whether to ditch leader Luigi Di Maio after the party's flop at European elections, the deputy prime minister said.

Italy's Five Star Movement votes whether to ditch leader Luigi Di Maio
Head of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The M5S rules in coalition with Matteo Salvini's nationalist League, which won a resounding victory in Italy on the back of an “Italians First” campaign,  dealing a blow to the Movement and threatening the stability of the government.

“You decide. I am asking to put my role as party leader to the vote,” Di  Maio said on the M5S blog on Wednesday. “If the Movement renews its faith in me, we'll get to work… with even more commitment and dedication,” he added. 

The vote on whether he should stay on will take place on the M5S online platform on Thursday.

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The EU vote results confirmed the reversal of fortunes of the ruling parties, with M5S — which pocketed 32.5 percent at the general election — taking home just 17 percent on Sunday compared to the League's 34 percent.

“I had promised to get the Movement into government… and we did. I never gave any less than 100 percent,” Di Maio said.

“I would never have thought working hard would be a fault,” he added, in an apparent reference to Salvini, who famously spent fewer than 20 days in his office between the start of the year and the vote as he toured the country campaigning.

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The M5S chief has been criticised by part of the Movement's base for taking on too much with his three roles as party head, deputy prime minister and economic development, labour and social policies minister. 

Di Maio has blamed the M5S's poor performance on low voter turnout, as well as a mud-slinging campaign by the League against which it was slow to retaliate.

He received a show of support Wednesday from comedian Beppe Grillo, the M5S co-founder, who remains an influential figure within the Movement despite withdrawing from the political scene to focus on his stand-up career.

A new direction for Italy's Five Star Movement? Beppe Grillo distances himself from the party he founded
Beppe Grillo (L) and the party's new leader Luigi Di Maio with the Five Star Movement's new logo. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

“The Movement has suffered a defeat and must react,” he admitted on his website. However, he said he was “wounded” by those M5S members who were acting “as if it were a drop in the sales of a multinational company”.

“Luigi has not committed any crime, he is not involved in any scandal. He must carry on the fight,” Grillo said. 

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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