Local elections deal a heavy blow for Italy’s Five Star Movement

UPDATED: Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement suffered a setback on Sunday after exit polls and early results from local elections showed they failed to advance to the second round of voting in any of the country's main cities.

Local elections deal a heavy blow for Italy's Five Star Movement
Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo pictured during a speech. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Votes were cast in 1,005 of the country's towns and smaller cities, including four regional capitals: L'Aquila, Catanzaro, Palermo, and Genoa. 

The latter was a particularly closely-watched race, as it is the hometown of Five Star leader Beppe Grillo, who had been campaigning there in recent days – hoping to repeat the Movement's success in the 2016 local elections, where it took control of both Rome and Turin.

However, the party's candidate in Genoa only reached 18 percent of the vote, according to exit polls, with centre-right candidate Marco Bucci in the lead.

Other important races were held in Verona, Lecce, and Parma, where the city's ex-Five Star mayor will go head-to-head with the centre-left candidate in the second round, while the Movement's candidate received just over three percent of the vote.

READ ALSO: What is Italy's Five Star Movement?What is Italy's Five Star Movement?
Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Most of the elections will go forward to a second round: in contests where no leader reaches an outright 50 percent majority, run-off elections will be held between the two most popular candidates on June 25th.

In Palermo, however, where the necessary majority is only 40 percent, centre-left candidate and anti-mafia magistrate Leoluca Orlando kept his job as mayor after receiving 46 percent of the vote – the only candidate to win outright in a major city.

An important test

Sunday's vote was the last time Italians will go to the polls before general elections expected early next year, and were seen as a key test for the main parties. 

General elections must be held by spring 2018, though the four major parties have all expressed a desire for them to be brought forward to the autumn.

However, after talks on a deal on a new electoral law collapsed on Thursday, early elections are now seen as much less likely.

The initial results of Sunday's vote will be a boost for the ruling Democratic Party and for the centre-right Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi.

But the failure to advance to the second round in any of Italy's major cities will be a disappointment for Grillo's party, which has been shown as neck-and-neck with the Democratic Party in nationwide opinion polls.

Figures from the Democratic Party were quick to point this out, with the party's head of local authorities, Matteo Ricci, saying: “If the data are confirmed, this will be a resounding defeat for the Five Star Movement.”

“In parliament and at the municipal level, Five Star has demonstrated that they are stronger when it comes to winning votes than governing,” said the PD's Ettore Rosato.

“They do not make choices, they don't make decisions, or assume their responsibilities.”

After scooping around 25 percent of the vote in 2013's general election, the Movement went on to win major victories in local elections, with its candidates elected as mayors in Turin and Rome last year.

But it has been hit by problems from in-fighting to scandals, and Rome's administration has been accused of failing to tackle key local issues such as the city's rubbish crisis, a cornerstone of mayor Virginia Raggi's campaign.

Grillo denied that the results were a disappointment, saying the Movement's critics were “deluding themselves”. 

“The Five Star Movement was the most present political force in this electoral round,” the former comedian wrote in a blog post titled Sucesses, Failures and Aims.

He said that the results were “a sign of slow but inexorable growth” of the Movement and “a slow death” of the PD.

Grillo hit out at the country's media, which labelled the results a “flop” for the Five Stars. “Delude yourselves so you can sleep more soundly; we continue to move forward on our path,” he said.

READ ALSO: Five Star Movement leader Grillo wants to give 16-year-olds the vote

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Italy’s government proposes bill to make surrogacy a ‘universal crime’

Italy’s parliament is set to debate a bill that would expand criminal penalties for the use of surrogacy, in what opponents say is part of a broader attack on gay rights by the country’s hard-right government.

Italy's government proposes bill to make surrogacy a 'universal crime'

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is lead signatory on the new bill, which would make surrogacy – already a crime in Italy – a criminal act for Italians who make use of the practice anywhere in the world.

The motion combines previous draft laws from the ruling Brothers of Italy, Forza Italia and League parties, and will be debated in the lower house from Wednesday, according to news agency Ansa.

The move comes days after the government ordered the city of Milan to stop issuing birth certificates to the children of same-sex couples on the grounds that the practice violates Italian law.

READ ALSO: Milan stops recognising children born to same-sex couples

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has long been outspoken against surrogacy, which she has described as “a commodification of women’s bodies and of human life.”

In a heated parliamentary debate on the rights of same sex couples on Monday, her Brothers of Italy colleague Federico Mollicone, chair of the lower house’s Culture Committee, said surrogacy was “more serious than paedophilia.”

Similar comments were made in 2017 by a minister of the now-defunct New Centre Right party, who likened entering into a surrogacy arrangement to committing a sex crime.

READ ALSO: ‘Surrogacy is like a sex crime’: Italy minister

In early 2022, as leader of the Brothers of Italy party in opposition to Mario Draghi’s coalition government, Meloni put forward the same motion to make surrogacy a “universal crime”.

The text was adopted by the Justice Committee of the former legislature – a preliminary step before it can be debated in the lower house – last April, but did not go further at the time.

The crime of surrogacy in Italy is currently punishable with a prison sentence of over three years or a fine of between 600,000 and one million euros; penalties that the government is proposing to extend to all Italian citizens who engage in the practice, regardless of where it occurs.

Whether such a law would even be possible to pass or enforce is unclear, and legal experts have dismissed it as impractical. 

“There are no conditions that would justify an expansion of penal intervention of this type,” Marco Pelissero, a professor of criminal law at the University of Turin, told L’Espresso newspaper.

The idea of a universal crime “does not even exist in the legal language,” he said.

But the proposal has aroused fears that, if passed, the law could result in large numbers of same-sex parents whose children were born via surrogates being sent to prison.

“With this law we would be exposing families with young children to criminal law, quite simply criminalising procreative choices made abroad in countries where these practices are regulated,” Angelo Schillaci, a professor of Comparative Public Law at La Sapienza University, told the news site Fanpage.

‘We are aware of how hard this government is working to strip even the most basic rights from same-sex-parent families,” Alessia Crocini, head of the Rainbow Families organisation, said last week when it was first announced that Milan had been banned from registering the children of gay couples.

The move resulted in large-scale protests across the city on Saturday, and Milan Mayor Beppe Sala has pledged to fight the change.

“It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view,” he said in a recent podcast interview.

On Tuesday, European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders commented that European Union member states are required by EU law to recognise the children of same-sex couples.

“In line with the LGBTIQ equality strategy for 2020-2025, the Commission is in continuous dialogue with Member States regarding the implementation of the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

“This also includes the obligation for Member States to recognise” children “of same-sex parents, for the purpose of exercising the rights conferred by the EU”, Reynders reportedly said in response to question about the developments in Milan.