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Roma (AFP) – Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government was rocked by further turmoil on Tuesday after the largest party in parliament split, with the foreign minister forming a splinter group.
Luigi Di Maio has said his decision to quit the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to his “ambiguity” over Italy’s support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
But it follows months of internal tensions in the party, which has lost most of the support that propelled it to power in 2018 and faces near annihilation in national elections due next year.
As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already joined Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, according to media reports.
“Today, I and so many others (…) leave the Five Star Movement”, announced the Minister of Foreign Affairs during a press conference.
“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the leading political force in parliament.”
Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment Five Star movement, but as Italy’s top diplomat he embraced Draghi’s more pro-European and pro-Atlanticist views.
He backed the prime minister’s strong support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion, including sending weapons to Kyiv to defend itself.
In this he clashed with the head of Five Star, former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who argued that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.
But a majority of lawmakers — including from the Five Star Movement — backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.
A diplomatic solution
Despite Italy’s traditional ties to Russia, Draghi’s government sent arms and money to help Ukraine, while strongly supporting EU sanctions against Russia.
Conte had warned against involving Italy in an arms race.
“We contributed by sending three batches of weapons. Now it seems to us that our contribution would be more valuable on the diplomatic front,” he said earlier this month.
But Di Maio had harsh words for his party and its leader, without naming Conte by name.
“During these months, the main political force in parliament had a duty to support government diplomacy and avoid ambiguity. But that was not the case,” he said.
“At this historic moment, support for European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.
The Five Star Movement, he said, had jeopardized the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points and not even succeed”.
Despite friction, senators agreed by 219 to 20 to a resolution Tuesday in favor of Draghi’s policies, days before a European summit later this week.
The compromise resolution grants greater parliamentary involvement in decisions, including on arms deliveries, which Conte wants.
Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank who visited Kyiv last week with the leaders of France and Germany, made it clear earlier on Tuesday that his course was set.
“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, Di Maio at his side.
“This is the mandate that the government has received from Parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”
The Five Star Movement stormed to power in the 2018 general election after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and remained in power even after Draghi parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.
But while he once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, political reversals and dismal polls have left him struggling for relevance.
“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who overthrew the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.
© 2022 AFP