It Just Keeps Getting Uglier Between Italy's Populists

(Bloomberg) -- Relations between Italy’s feuding populist allies sank to a new low as Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio called for a lawmaker from the League to resign, egged on by an expletive-laced post on his party’s blog.

Di Maio and his Five Star Movement are pressing for Armando Siri, an undersecretary and adviser to League chief Matteo Salvini, to quit ahead of a cabinet session due Wednesday.

Siri is under investigation for allegedly taking a bribe from a businessman linked to the mafia. While he’s denied all wrongdoing, Five Star, which has long campaigned for clean government, has been calling for his resignation since the allegations surfaced. The anti-establishment Five Star and the conservative League share power in an improbable coalition.

“The most important thing is to remove this undersecretary who’s casting a shadow over the government,” Di Maio told Rai Radio 1 Monday. Di Maio said he doesn’t expect the issue to come to a cabinet vote. The cabinet will meet Wednesday morning, Ansa news agency reported.

Separately, Milan prosecutors have started a new investigation into Siri’s purchase of a building using a 585,000-euro ($654,000) mortgage from a San Marino-based bank, Ansa reported. The investigation doesn’t specify charges or suspects. Siri said in a statement earlier Monday that no irregularities had been committed.

As the top party in last year’s general elections, Five Star holds a majority in the cabinet, but resorting to a vote to resolve the Siri affair would underscore the administration’s fragility.

Salvini has long been under pressure from League lieutenants to pull the plug on the coalition over tensions on a range of issues including immigration, taxes, chemical castration for rapists and regional autonomy.

Early Elections

Relations with Five Star have deteriorated so much that Italian media reported over the weekend that Salvini is considering trying to force an early election, after European Parliament elections in late May.

With opinion polls showing the League will likely emerge as Italy’s strongest party after the May vote, Salvini may be doubly tempted. The League, which finished third in the 2018 election, now emerges as the top party in opinion polls, with about 31 percent support, compared with some 22 percent for Five Star. Both leaders insist the coalition will serve out its full term.

Nonetheless the two sides, whose 11 months of sharing power have been an endless cycle of locking horns and then making amends, appeared to cross a new line over the weekend. Five Star’s official blog went so far as to resort to expletives to challenge Salvini, who along with Di Maio runs the government as a deputy prime minister, to force Siri out.

Never one to back down -- or shy away from salty language-- Salvini responded with the same expletive, adding, “to those who attack me I say shut up, get to work and stop threatening people. That’s the final warning.”

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