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Italy's 'zombie' government lurches towards EU vote

Interior Minister Salvini has angered many in Italy by skipping Liberation Day commemorations, which celebrate the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945
Interior Minister Salvini has angered many in Italy by skipping Liberation Day commemorations, which celebrate the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945 AFP
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Rome (AFP)

Italy's populist government is on its last legs, its bitterly warring coalition partners putting up with each other merely to avoid losing votes at the upcoming European elections, analysts say.

The far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) have been at each other's throats since coming to power last June, with the "contract for government" that was supposed to unite them trampled underfoot.

The government "is already dead, but remains on its feet, a bit like a zombie, waiting for the European elections", political commentator Stefano Folli said this week.

Italy, he said, was suspended "between farce and drama".

The latest row erupted when an undersecretary close to League head Matteo Salvini was accused of corruption.

Armando Siri is alleged to have accepted a 30,000 euros ($33,000) bribe -- or the promise of it -- from a businessman, for promoting the interests of renewable energy companies.

Prosecutors also suspect the businessman of being in league with a Sicilian who has links to a Mafia boss.

The M5S, which made "honesty" a keyword of its political campaign, has demanded Siri resign.

Even the movement's leader, Luigi Di Maio -- who usually makes some effort to keep the peace with fellow deputy prime minister Salvini -- has called for the undersecretary's head to roll.

Salvini insists Siri is innocent until proven guilty -- and has played up the fact the bribe may not have ever changed hands.

But Siri is not the only fuse lit under the coalition.

Salvini angered many in Italy on Thursday by skipping Liberation Day commemorations, which celebrate the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945.

His snub follows a rise in hate crimes in Italy, and the M5S is under increasing pressure from its left wing to take Salvini to task over his courtship of the far right.

- 'Battles to win the war' -

"Under normal circumstances, the M5S-League government would have disintegrated long ago", La Repubblica daily said, while La Stampa simply asked: "is there still a government?"

"We can't go on like this. We can't work in this climate, under attack on a daily basis," Salvini reportedly complained to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, according to La Stampa.

Salvini and Di Maio "cannot win the war by trying to win battles to use as a springboard in the election", Folli said.

Both parties are determined to keep the government alive until May 26, the date of the EU elections in Italy, for fear of losing votes. The ballot results could strengthen their hands at home -- or weaken them.

"After that, we will have to take decisions, the situation is no longer sustainable", Salvini is said to have told his entourage.

The League, which won 17 percent of the general election in March and is now polling at around 32 percent, is hoping a good showing in the EU ballot will allow it to ditch the M5S at home and rule alone.

The M5S, which took home 32 percent at the general election but has since seen its popularity drop to the low 20s, hopes a good result in Brussels will slam the breaks on its decline.

Whether their rocky marriage can make it intact to the EU vote is yet to be seen.

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