The fall of Italy’s 5-Star Movement

The “5-Star Movement” has been a surprise throughout the last decade. It started as an anti-establishment movement led by Grillo and Casaleggio. As many representatives explained, the primary aim was to “open Parliament up like a can of tuna”. Nevertheless, it has since been revealed to be the most ordinary party in the Italian political system. A spiral of events has led the once revolutionary 5-starred creature to conform to the typical dynamics of politics with an interest solely driven by consensus after having been broken by the mechanisms of power.

The Movement has changed sides countless times. It started as an opposition force in 2013. Support was gained by the party for the very reason of not inherently being a party itself, rather a very innovative idea and something that had never happened before in the Italian politics. There has always been a tendency to have few big parties attempting to encompass other people’s intentions or ideas, with a historical contraposition between “PCI” and “DC” in the nineties and “Forza Italia” and “PD” in a second stage; all of them being very traditional and all-encompassing forces. This was the key to attracting so many votes, including its zenith in the 2018 elections with 32 per cent of the vote. Afterwards, the decline of the Movement began.

The first mistake was, in hindsight, the coalition government with “Lega”. This weakened their support as now they faced a wave of disillusionment from voters who reconsidered the Movement’s goals after it came to terms with “Lega” and made unpopular choices. Put in another way, they had to conform. That was the core issue, regardless of the particular political direction of their decisions. By joining government, the 5-star party contradicted its revolutionary nature. As long as it was a non-governing force, it indeed caught the eye of many people who eventually ended up disillusioned. Governing is quite different from big talks in the streets, and this is the point the Movement has missed and the reason for its now reduced popularity.

With Draghi as Prime Minister, all big parties agreed to jointly govern, except for the “Fratelli D’Italia”. The situation is now different and the “5-Star Movement” is no longer even particularly influential, with control of only four ministries and a more marginal role in the decision-making process. This more collaborative approach impaired even more the disruptive attitude of the Movement.

Moreover, the party is facing an internal struggle with two opposing wings, one being led by Grillo and the other under Conte’s influence. Conte is exploiting his popularity which he gained while being prime minister, with some influential parliamentarians in the Movement such as Dino Giarrusso, Nicola Morra and Stefano Buffagni willing to blindly follow the once “people’s lawyer”.

Nevertheless, Grillo is still the main person influencing the party’s positions, with suggestions of Conte taking over, or a new separated party, being little more than thought experiments. These internal divisions are further contributing to reducing the Movement’s hold on government. Furthermore, the official party line still remains Grillo’s, the approach to the latest problems is much more akin to an opposition force rather than a well-grounded and influencing one.

Many fronts are now open in the country. The most pressing one is long-awaited justice reform. The issue here is that the new minister, Marta Cartabia, formerly President of the Constitutional Court, is proposing a plan that opposes the prior Minister of Justice, 5-star’s Bonafede. What is more, the 5-Star Movement is pushing for a straight approval of the law decree “Zan”, a measure against homophobia and transphobia which is a very hotly debated at the moment.

5-star is backed up by “PD”, old allies from the second Conte government, but they are isolated from the rest of the political parties. While the decree has been approved by the Chamber of Deputies but not by the Senate yet; according to the figures, it is very unlikely that “Zan” will pass through the Senate as “PD” and the “5-star Movement” are its only supporters. This means that the decree would be bounced back for approval in the Chamber of Deputies.

Even with the last pressing issue concerning the Italian political arena, the 5-Star Movement finds itself with no support in its attempts to block a popular referendum supported by Lega and the Radical Party, with PD gradually moving towards more support for the referendum.  

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