Italy’s Five Star Movement gets ready to choose its candidate for PM

Italy's Five Star Movement has launched primaries to choose its candidate for prime minister in the upcoming general election.

Italy's Five Star Movement gets ready to choose its candidate for PM
Luigi Di Maio, widely considered the favourite to win the primaries. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The favourite is 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, who confirmed on Monday that he was putting himself forward for the position.

Writing in a Facebook post, Di Maio said: “We're still here, stronger than ever. Now we have to finish the job; let's get to Palazzo Chigi [the Italian Prime Minister's official residence] and make Italy rise up again.”

Di Maio is currently Deputy Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies – the youngest person to ever hold the office. A law student and good speaker, always dressed in a suit and tie, he is a very different figure to the party's 69-year-old co-founder and de facto leader, former comedian Beppe Grillo. 

Though the 31-year-old has long been considered the favourite to lead the Five Star Movement in the next election, in theory any party member who has held an elected position (for example on a regional council or in one of the houses of parliament) and has never belonged to another political party is eligible to stand. 

Would-be candidates had until midday on Monday to apply, and voting will take place this week, with the new party leader and Five Star candidate for Prime Minister set to be announced on Saturday.

The party uses an online voting system to choose candidates for official positions – as well as to vote on draft legislation and policies – as part of its aim of 'direct democracy'. 

However, the voting system, which is officially called a “consultation tool”, has come under fire for a lack of transparency. A Sicilian court last week suspended the results of the Five Star Movement's regional primaries following a legal appeal by a candidate who was barred from the ballot by party leadership.

Former members have criticized the leadership's tight control over the system, as well as the fact that only a small number of supporters are signed up to the online votes: just 150,000, less than a quarter of whom actively participate in the voting, despite a total party membership of millions.

Earlier this year, Genoa candidate Marika Cassimatis was barred from the list, despite topping the poll, when Grillo judged some of her positions to be “contrary to the principles of his movement”. Writing on his blog later, the party leader did not expand on exactly what these positions, or the party principles supposedly violated, were, but instead called on members to “trust me”.

Cassimatis was among several politicians to criticize a rule published on Grillo's blog over the weekend, which stated that party members currently under investigation would be eligible to stand.

The rules state that such candidates are eligible to stand as long as they present a written report and documents relating to the case to party leadership.

Grillo hit back at the criticism in a separate blog post, pointing out that the regulation had been part of the party's Code of Ethics voted on by members in January. Party members found guilty of a criminal offence are ineligible to run – a rule which excludes Grillo himself, due to a conviction for manslaughter relating to a car accident in 1981.

The winner of this week's vote will not only be the Five Star Movement's candidate for prime minister, but will also become party leader. The two roles are not always held by the same person in Italian political parties, and the Movement has not previously had an official leader, something which tied into its philosophy of challenging the older 'establishment' parties.

The latest opinion polls in Italy show the Five Star Movement almost neck-and-neck with the ruling Democratic Party, both polling at around 30 percent of the vote. However, with no party set to win an outright majority, it is very unclear what the next Italian government would look like.

This is primarily because neither of the two front-runners have an obvious ally. Joining forces with one of the 'old' parties would be disastrous for the anti-establishment image of the Five Star Movement, while the Democratic Party is too far ideologically removed from the far-right Northern League to form an alliance, and would likely be forced to ally with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, a coalition which has proved troublesome in the past.

READ ALSO: What is Italy's Five Star Movement?

What is Italy's Five Star Movement?


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.