The five star thrill

  • Opinion
  • Sunday, 04 Mar 2018

No flash in the pan: Di Maio and Five Star’s prevailing philosophy of direct democracy, environmental ideas and Euroscepticism have attracted millions of young voters. — AP

TODAY, in an all too familiar scenario, Italians are going to the polls and will doubtless experience a new government. Well, the correlation is not so direct.

This is the 18th parliamentary election held in modern post-fascist Italy in 1946. However there have been over 60 governments. This is because administrations break up between elections and new ones are formed by existing factions without going to the polls.

In fact, it has happened with such frequency that a typical government lasts less than 18 months.

Part of this instability can be attributed to too much democracy, with Italy’s fair system allowing for a more accurate representation in parliament based on actual votes, than what happens in say, the United Kingdom, the United States or Malaysia.

The downside to this is that every government it has had has been a coalition one and it’s usually been unstable.

Since the last election Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi and then Paolo Gentiloni have taken turns at the helm of the country.

Each is from the left-leaning Democratic Party, which has its roots in the former Communist Party as well as the more socially conscious wing of the long dominant Christian Democratic Party.

The youthful Renzi is in control of party machinery, but while I was once a huge fan, I can’t say his brand of politics has paid great dividends.

And the truth is that the Democratic Party’s popularity has taken a nose dive since its peak in 2014. In fact, we are likely to see it to tumble into third place.

Another contender for the title is that hoary old chestnut, Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, 81, has served four separate terms as PM for a combined total of nine years. In a way, he was a Donald Trump long before the orange-haired version enjoyed his political triumph.

A long-time magnate who has dealt with construction, media and even football club AC Milan, Berlusconi made the news this past week when he told a female reporter who shook his hand firmly that she will never get married with too strong a handshake.

The funny thing is that after getting embroiled in tax evasion and under-age prostitution scandals, Berlusconi is banned from contesting this election.

Despite this, his party Forza Italy is rising well in the polls.

What’s worrying is its on-off coalition partner, the Northern League, seems to have taken on the mantle of racist politics rather than see it go to parties further to the right.

I recall when Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter Allesandra was the glamorous face of soft fascism in the late 80s/early 90s but she is now a moderate European MP in Berlusconi’s party.

The Northern League was originally a regionalist party but under the leadership of Matteo Salvini, it has veered sharply to the right.

Salvini is tapping on xenophobia and has allied his party in Europe with France’s National Front and Geert Wilders’ Party For Freedom.

No wonder then that the growth of the Five Star Movement has been seized upon like a ray of hope. It is quite unlike the left-leaning Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, but despite anti-immigration rheotoric is definitely not like the rightist populists of the afore-mentioned National Front and Germany’s Alternative for Germany

Five Star has managed to weave a strong opposition to traditional politics with environmental ideas and Euroscepticism into a brand that attracts millions of young voters.

It even had an online primary election six months ago, very much in keeping with the prevailing philosophy of direct democracy.

The end result is that Luigi Di Maio, 31, is the PM candidate.

The movement has proved to be no flash in the pan, as members Virginia Raggi and Chiara Appendino won the mayoral elections in Rome and Turin, respectively, in 2016. They were 37 and 32 at the time.

The party activists are committed to term limits as part of the party’s philosophy of zero-cost politics which means that the politicians themselves should not be allowed to make themselves a permanent fixture of the scene, allowing for the accumulation of riches and power.

Furthermore, the Five Star Movement’s rejection of coalition politics threatens a real shake-up of the establishment.

It will probably be tested in the event it emerges the largest force in parliament but without a governing majority.

Di Maio and his party have also taken the unusual step of naming and presenting a Cabinet should they form the government.

It has to be said these are exciting times.

News editor Martin Vengadesan is increasingly drawn to some of the ideas of the five star movement.

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Politics , Italy , Enrico Letta


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