ROME -- Italy’s political landscape shifted Wednesday after Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio formalized his departure from the 5-Star Movement, splitting with the party he helped found over its Ukraine policy and other differences.
Di Maio announced his departure after Premier Mario Draghi briefed the Senate on Italy’s continued commitment to helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia.
The president of the lower Chamber of Deputies made the official announcement Wednesday that Di Maio’s new movement “Together for the Future” would be represented in the chamber, with a reported 50 5-Star lawmakers who defected to Di Maio. Around a dozen 5-Star senators also defected, news reports said, making the right-wing League now the majority party in Parliament.
Despite the new reshuffling, the stability of Draghi’s broad coalition government was never in doubt and the current 5-Star leadership vowed continued support. And while the League has the majority based on its 2018 election results, the party has fallen significantly in polls and local election results since then and now trails the right-wing Brothers of Italy and Democratic Party going into parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.
The earthquake within the 5-Stars capped weeks of tensions in the movement fueled by differences over Italy’s Ukraine policy and personality differences between Di Maio and the 5-Star leader, former Premier Giuseppe Conte. Conte has called for Italy to stop sending weapons to Ukraine and to focus more on a diplomatic resolution, creating a split with Di Maio who as foreign minister is responsible for implementing the policy.
“We had to decide which side of history to be on,” Di Maio told a late-night news conference.
But the recent 5-Star turmoil has just been the latest setback for the party that was founded as a grassroots anti-establishment movement and peaked in the 2018 parliamentary election, after which it emerged as the majority party in Parliament. But in recent years it has seen its popular support plummet and its base defect as the party leadership sought to remain in power by forming coalitions with the right, the left and most recently Draghi’s broad alliance.
Other political leaders were quick to seize on the development, with former Premier Matteo Renzi cheering what he said was the “end” of the 5-Star experiment.
“It was a political experience we always fought because we believed it hurt the country,” he tweeted. “Let’s not talk about it anymore. Let’s return to serious things, to politics.”
League leader Matteo Salvini vowed not to seek new government positions as a result of his party's new parliamentary majority, saying he doesn't seek “thrones.” He instead called for new measures to help Italians suffering from high gas and energy prices.
“The government can’t be blocked because of the upheaval in the 5-Star Movement,” he said.
Conte, for his part, brushed off questions about whether he would resign his leadership of the party and said the 5-Stars weren’t going anywhere and remained committed to pursuing social justice, ecological and digital transition of Italy.
“We remain strong with our values and ideals and political project,” he told reporters Wednesday.