Italian populists dither over support for Draghi government

The populist 5-Star Movement, the largest party in the Italian Parliament, put on hold Wednesday its commitment to back the new government that former central banker Mario Draghi is working to assemble to mend Italy’s pandemic-devastated economy.

Even without the backing of Movement lawmakers, the former European Central Bank president has enough pledges of support from other parties, ranging from political left to right, to clinch the required votes of confidence in the country’s two-chamber legislature.

Still, in tapping Draghi to try to form the next Cabinet, Italian President Sergio Mattarella wanted to see the country pull together behind a government not beholden to any one political leaning and focused on managing the health, social and economic crises caused by the pandemic.

Although prominent Movement lawmakers who met with Draghi indicated the premier-designate deserved support, comic Beppe Grillo, a founder of the 5-Stars, abruptly postponed online voting by registered members on whether to back a Draghi-led government. The 5-Stars consider themselves an anti-establishment grassroots movement and online democracy.

Before the online voting set for Wednesday and Thursday started, Grillo said “”Let’s wait a moment” in a Facebook video posted hours after he and other Movement leaders met with Draghi. In the video, Grillo insisted that Draghi first publicly announce his policies before the membership vote.

Draghi didn’t immediately respond, but he has not made any public comments since he set to work last week consulting party leaders and listening to their suggestions while seeking support. Usually, premiers lay out their goals and policies in Parliament just ahead of the confidence votes required to govern.

Draghi spent Wednesday meeting with union and business leaders and environmentalists. All are keen in making their voices heard on how Italy should spend more than 200 billion euros ($240 billion) in European Union pandemic recovery funds.

Just when Draghi will report back to Mattarella and whether his proposed Cabinet would be made up of only technocrats or include political figures was unclear Wednesday evening.

But while Grillo urged caution, other prominent 5-Star members encouraged the Movement to close ranks behind Draghi.

“It’s beautiful to see a united Italy,” Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri, a 5-Star who is involved in promoting the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, said. “We’re all rowing in the same direction,” Sileri told Sky TG24 TV.

The Movement’s cracks have widened into clear factions ever since it became the main coalition partner in 2018 in back-to-back governments led by Giuseppe Conte.

The first saw the 5-Stars partner with the right-wing, euroskeptic League party. In Conte’s second coalition government, the 5-Stars governed with left-wing and center-leaning forces, including loyalists to ex-premier Matteo Renzi.

Renzi’s withdrawal of coalition support last month ultimately forced Conte’s resignation. That prompted Mattarella to tap Draghi as a widely respected figure who could marshal wide, solid support in Parliament for Italy’s pandemic-recovery efforts.