The art of steadfast splits

Beppe Grillo and Federico Pizzarotti. Credits:

Beppe Grillo and Federico Pizzarotti. Credits:

On 4 October, the Italian anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) celebrated its 7th anniversary. The previous day, Federico Pizzarotti, who gave the M5S its first electoral big victory when he became the mayor of Parma in 2012, announced his decision to leave the party. The move became the latest blow in a series of scandals that had rocked the M5S over the past few months. However, opinion polls show the party keeps doing well.

Since the M5S won 25.6 percent of the vote in its first national elections in February 2013, it has been shattered by internal divisions. Out of the 108 parliamentarians who were elected to the lower chamber, the Chamber of Deputies, of the Italian parliament at the time, about a fifth left the party within 18 months. Today, it has only 91 deputies what still makes the M5S the second biggest faction.

The problems of the M5S are numerous. But in general, less than a decade since its creation and three months after it took several cities across Italy in local elections, the M5S struggles to stick to its promises of transparency and accountability.

The case of Virginia Raggi, who recently marked her first 100 days as Rome’s first female mayor, is exemplary. In June, she won the run-off against the Democratic candidate promising to deliver on much troubled public services — garbage collection, transportation and hospitals. But most the time since then Mrs Raggi has spent trying to soothe divisions in the City Council, where the M5S also won a majority, and to fill key positions of her cabinet.

Moreover, it was revealed that Paola Muraro, a member of the Rome city administration responsible for environment sustainability, has been under investigations for several months because of her connections to the so-called ‘mafia capitale’ scandal that unearthed how the mafia controlled the procurement of waste disposal contracts in the capital.

During her mayoral campaign, Virginia Raggi promised to put an end to the mafia’s involvement into the business of waste management in Rome. But she has never asked Paola Muraro to leave. Neither did Luigi Di Maio, another M5S politician who was informed by the mayor about the revelations.

“Raggi’s electoral campaign was based on legality and transparency, but this is incompatible with her defence of Muraro,” said Roberto Giachetti, a losing Democratic candidate in June.

The situation deteriorated so much that 70 city hall managers wrote an open letter that criticised Mrs Raggi and stressed the paralysis spreading all over Rome’s administrative system.

“Not a single day goes by without attacks, polemic and accusations. I have broad shoulders. It is not a problem for me,” Mrs Raggi reassured her supporters.

Earlier this year Parma Mayor Federico Pizzarotti was accused of abuse of office over how he handled the appointment of the head of the local opera in 2015. He denied any wrongdoing but the M5S began to isolate him before the local elections what angered him and led to verbal clashes with the national leadership of the party. In early October, he announced he left the M5S. “The M5S today is no longer what it was when it was founded,” Mr Pizzarotti said, explaining that no one of the movement phoned him after he was cleared of accusations. “As a free man I have no choice but to leave this movement and what it has become today.”

Against this backdrop came the announcement that Beppe Grillo, who co-founded the party along with entrepreneur Roberto Casaleggio in 2009, is again at the help of the M5S.

“There’s not just garbage to cancel, but the entire rotten system of power,” said Grillo. “I’m back,” he stated in late September.

But regardless of all the drama, scandals and resignations, they seem to have had no direct effect on the party’s rating in opinion polls. The most recent survey, carried out by Acqua Group, shows the M5S still remains highly popular and goes neck and neck with the ruling Democratic Party (30.7 vs 30.2) and well ahead of other parties.

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