POMIGLIANO D'ARCO, Italy (CN) — Any day now Italy's coalition government — molded from an unlikely alliance of two populist parties drawn from the left and the right — could fall and plunge Europe into a new crisis.
For months, members of this quirky and controversial Italian government have been clashing, but in recent days the tenor of the fight sharpened dramatically after Italian authorities opened an investigation into whether the governing far-right League party may have sought illicit campaign money from Russian sources close to Vladimir Putin.
The League is the junior partner in a coalition government with the 5-Star Movement, an anti-corruption left-leaning upstart internet-based party strong in the impoverished south. The League, by comparison, is a nationalist party dominant in the wealthier north.
Since forming a government in June 2018, the League has steadily outmaneuvered the politically less experienced 5-Star Movement.
Its success comes from being cheered by many Italians who like what the League's leader, Matteo Salvini, is doing as he pushes to expel immigrants, shut Italian ports to asylum-seekers and close down immigration centers.
Polls show that the League has overtaken the 5-Star Movement. If snap elections were called, the League could pick up as much as 40% of the electorate, a percentage that could allow it to govern.
The League is considered one of Europe's most extreme political forces and a threat to the European Union. Salvini is seeking to form a coalition of like-minded nationalists in Europe and neuter the power of Brussels. At the same time, Italy, one of Europe's most important economies, is viewed as Europe's sick man with its astronomic public debt, high unemployment and low-growth economy.
It feels like only a matter of time before Italians will be called to the ballot box again.
“At some point, the League is going to pull the plug,” said Antonio Di Maio, a 39-year-old traffic warden in this sun-baked working-class town just outside of Naples and in view of Mount Vesuvius.
The 5-Star Movement's ailments are neatly explained in this town because it's where the party's leader hails from.
He is Luigi Di Maio, a 33-year-old fresh-faced policy wonk and lawyer with a squeaky clean and buttoned-up image. He grew up on the sunny streets of Pomigliano d'Arco, a city with a long history of left-wing activism due to the presence of automobile factories. Di Maio is not related to the traffic warden, who happens to share his last name.
Di Maio's mother and father — who was, strangely, a former local candidate for neo-Fascist political parties in the 1980s and 1990s — still live here. Di Maio's family declined to speak with Courthouse News.
It was in Pomigliano d'Arco that Di Maio in 2007 opened up one of the 5-Stars’ “Meetups,” informal groups of voters and activists who adhere to the party's message of wiping the slate clean and reforming Italy’s corrupt political system.
From that beginning, Di Maio went on to become the 5-Star Movement's political leader and one of the youngest Italians ever to reach the highest levels of government.
But at the moment, it looks like Di Maio's rising fortunes may have crested.
“I think they want Di Maio's head,” the traffic warden said. “In Italy, in a couple of years, politicians get eaten up, consumed.”