Lead­er­ship ri­valry threat­ens am­bi­tions of Italy’s 5-Star Move­ment

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ROME: Italy’s anti-es­tab­lish­ment 5-Star Move­ment, po­ten­tially just months away from win­ning power, is wrestling with a prob­lem it thought it would never have to deal with: choos­ing a leader. And it is prov­ing dif­fi­cult. A mav­er­ick among Europe’s band of new po­lit­i­cal par­ties, 5-Star has no for­mal hi­er­ar­chy, be­liev­ing in­stead in a hor­i­zon­tal struc­ture where its sup­port­ers par­tic­i­pate di­rectly in de­ci­sion-mak­ing through on­line bal­lots.

The move­ment founded seven years ago, which bases its ap­peal on fight­ing cor­rup­tion and crony­ism, is run­ning neck-and­neck with for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi’s Demo­cratic Party (PD) in opin­ion polls. It was the big win­ner in a Dec. 4 ref­er­en­dum in which Ital­ians re­jected Renzi’s con­sti­tu­tional re­forms, forc­ing him from of­fice and lead­ing to calls from most po­lit­i­cal par­ties for elec­tions in the first half of 2017, a year ahead of sched­ule. But form­ing a gov­ern­ment would mean nom­i­nat­ing a prime min­is­ter, and ri­val­ries are build­ing among likely con­tenders that could ham­per the move­ment’s elec­tion hopes or desta­bilise a fu­ture 5-Star gov­ern­ment.

Party sources say a bat­tle for sup­port is al­ready in progress be­tween tele­genic 30year-old Luigi Di Maio, un­til re­cently the fa­vorite, and Roberto Fico, 42, a for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert who has taken a swipe at his ri­val by urg­ing the party to re­sist the cult of po­lit­i­cal celebrity.

A third con­tender has also re­cently emerged who may yet eclipse them both: Alessan­dro Di Bat­tista, a 38-year-old deputy from Rome who shows far more pas­sion than his ri­vals in de­cry­ing the cor­rup­tion en­demic in the main­stream par­ties. 5-Star is lead­ing in some opin­ion polls, de­spite squab­bles and scan­dals that have plagued the party’s mayor of Rome, Vir­ginia Raggi. But a lead­er­ship bat­tle is a new and risky chal­lenge to its frag­ile unity. “This is a move­ment with no real struc­ture and as the stakes get higher so will per­sonal am­bi­tions and in­fight­ing,” said Francesco Galietti at po­lit­i­cal risk con­sul­tancy Pol­icy Sonar.

Be­fore the next elec­tion 5-Star’s 135,000 mem­bers will choose their prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date in an on­line vote. The date of the vote, the reg­u­la­tions and the can­di­dates have not yet been fixed. So far only Di Maio has con­firmed he will run. Italy’s main­stream par­ties are try­ing to re­write the elec­toral rules to keep 5-Star from power but they have no guar­an­tee of suc­cess against a party that could emerge with the big­gest share of votes.


Di Maio was groomed as 5-Star’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date by the move­ment’s founders: Co­me­dian Beppe Grillo and in­ter­net guru Gian­roberto Casa­leg­gio, who died this year. Grillo, 68, 5-Star’s spir­i­tual head and de facto leader, has ruled out run­ning for of­fice, and in any case he would be barred un­der the move­ment’s in­ter­nal rules due to a con­vic­tion for man­slaugh­ter over a 1981 road ac­ci­dent. Yet he could re­main a ma­jor in­flu­ence over a 5-Star gov­ern­ment.

Soft-spo­ken, mod­er­ate and im­mac­u­lately turned out in suit and tie, Di Maio was at first seen as the per­fect foil to Grillo’s out­bursts and the­atri­cal rants. But he did lit­tle to hide his am­bi­tion. As his pub­lic pro­file has risen, so has the dis­ap­proval of fel­low 5-Star par­lia­men­tar­i­ans who ac­cuse him of hog­ging the lime­light.

When he gave an in­ter­view to Van­ity Fair in May, full of per­sonal de­tails that in­cluded his sex life with his girl­friend, he drew a rare pub­lic re­buke from his fel­low deputy Fico. Some of Di Maio’s col­leagues also ac­cuse him of with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion and sid­ing too closely with Rome mayor Raggi, who is dis­liked by a fac­tion of the party’s law­mak­ers.

Di Bat­tista, of­ten un­shaven and ca­su­ally dressed, is the new idol of 5-Star’s sup­port­ers. His pop­u­lar­ity shot up af­ter he spent the sum­mer tour­ing the whole of Italy on a scooter to cam­paign against Renzi’s con­sti­tu­tional re­forms.

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