Disenchanted voters in southern Italy turn against Five Star

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Edoardo Eremita, like many young voters in southern Italy, once backed the anti-establishment Five Star movement, captivated by its promise to fight poverty and corruption.

Since then, he has become disenchanted with the party. When Italians vote in an election later this month, Eremita will swing to the right, opting for the Brothers of Italy led by instigator Giorgia Meloni.

“I like the way she speaks – you feel safe with her. She has more credibility than other leaders, even at European level,” said the 28-year-old, who works for the national society of highway management “I’m not racist or anti-gay. Once in government, she will compromise and not be so extreme.”

Southern Italy – the poorest region of the country, where distrust of traditional politicians and traditional institutions runs deep – was once an impregnable bastion of support for Five Star. The region, which accounts for around a third of seats in parliament, voted overwhelmingly for Five Star in 2018. This helped the protest movement win 33% of the national vote, more than any other political party.

Now, however, his support in the south is waning. Many former Five Star voters plan to skip the next polls while others are turning to the right, drawn by Meloni’s charisma and novelty.

Growing support from the south – including in sleepy towns like Caserta, where Eremita lives – is expected to help Meloni’s 10-year-old Brothers of Italy become the biggest party in parliament. His right-wing coalition with Matteo Salvini’s League and tycoon Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia should secure a comfortable majority.

Edoardo Eremita became disenchanted with the politics of the Five Star Movement © Amy Kazmin/FT

One of the most polarizing issues ahead of the vote is the Citizens’ Income Policy – ​​Five Star’s flagship welfare program launched in 2019, which provides a monthly basic income to the unemployed. Many employers blame the scheme, whose average payment this year was €582 per month, for their difficulties in finding volunteer workers.

Meloni has pledged to abolish the program if she comes to power. Giuseppe Conte, the law professor who currently runs Five Star, has pledged to defend him, warning of a “civil war” if he is abandoned.

About 1.5 million Italian households have received Citizens’ Income Payments so far this year – around two-thirds of which are in the south, according to government data. Meanwhile, employers across Italy, including small business owners, are complaining of severe labor shortages.

“Instead of creating new jobs for young people, they have created a tool so that people don’t work,” said Giuseppe Arrighi, 67, who runs a small hair salon in Caserta. He voted for Five Star in 2018 and does not plan to vote. “I feel betrayed.”

Employers aren’t the only ones unhappy. Eremita believes that many young recipients of Citizens Income Payments work in informal jobs for which they receive money, which allows them to earn more than he does after paying his taxes.

His cousin, Francesco Gravino, 28, a train driver, is also appalled by what he sees as widespread abuse of the welfare scheme. However, he says he is “torn” over whether to vote for Five Star or Meloni’s Brothers of Italy. “I’m in favor of citizens’ income for people who can’t work, but not for people who can,” Gravino said.

Elisabetta Petti
Elisabetta Petti is undecided whether she will vote in the September 25 election © Amy Kazmin/FT

Gimmi Cangiano, a parliamentary candidate for the Brothers of Italy from the southern region of Campania, who hopes to win a seat in the region currently held by a Five Star member, said he expects many undecided voters support Meloni. They are likely to be drawn to both his “defense” of their interests and his strong Italian nationalism, he said.

“A lot of centre-right voters who voted for the five stars are now coming back – it’s a homecoming,” he said. “Meloni conveyed the idea of ​​homeland a lot. She calls herself a patriot and has tried to give Italians that sense of belonging that may have been lost in recent years.

However, the threat of eliminating citizens’ income is mobilizing support for Five Star among those who have benefited from the program. “Other politicians are selfish, but [Five Star leader] Tale is for the people,” said Angela, 38, a mother of two who asked not to give her last name. She received the €350 income from citizens every month for two years until she recently landed a part-time job as a school babysitter.

Elisabetta Petti, a 47-year-old human resources consultant, has tried a wide range of options on Italy’s political menu – from Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, to Five Star and the centre-left Democratic Party. But she is now so disillusioned that she does not know if she will vote at all.

She loves Meloni and the prospect of a strong leader, but hates Meloni’s future coalition partner, League leader Salvini, who mocked the south when he campaigned for northern autonomy.

“She’s very combative — women are bigger fighters,” Petti said. “But Salvini has said in the past that people in the south stink. It was very offensive. »

Gabriele Quagliero, 78, a retired factory worker who voted for Five Star in 2018, said he was done with politicians after successive disappointments. He thinks many older people like him will vote in the election.

“I don’t trust anyone anymore,” he said. “I voted for Five Star hoping something would change. But it didn’t.

He said some weary voters are still tempted to try Meloni on a final roll of the election dice. “I have a friend who says, ‘Meloni is my last chance,'” Guagliero said. “He’s going to vote for her just to see what happens.”

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