Just when the acrimony between the two leaders of Italy's populist governing coalition appeared to be fading, a pair of explosive corruption scandals involving senior members of both the League and the Five Star Movement have triggered a new crisis as tensions between the two parties flare.
As frustration with M5S grows, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, considered by many to be the most influential figure in contemporary Italian politics, is once again clashing with his fellow Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio, prompting senior officials within his own party to push for elections in June to try and capitalize on the League's growing popularity and push M5S out of the government.
Even before the scandals, policy differences had strained the relationship between the two anti-establishment parties. Over the past few months, M5S has grown increasingly impatient with the League's hardline anti-immigration stance, which nearly prompted a kidnapping investigation into Salvini over his involvement in the Diciotti crisis, though M5S decided to help block the probe in the Italian Senate, BBG reports. Meanwhile, the League has become frustrated with M5S's generous social welfare plans, particularly after revised government estimates pushed Italy's projected budget deficit to roughly 2.5% of GDP, well above the level to which Brussels agreed.
The two parties had briefly appeared to put these issues behind them after M5S stood by the League to help block the kidnapping investigation, but in a Facebook post published Friday, Luigi Di Maio, another deputy PM and leader of M5S, accused Salvini of secretly conspiring with Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister and leader of one of Italy's largest center-right parties, to bring about the fall of the government and form a new conservative coalition in defiance of the people's will.
What's worse, prosecutors in Rome suspect that Armando Siri, an economic advisor to Salvini and an undersecretary at the Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, accepted a €30,000 ($34,000) bribe for allegedly seeking to favor businessmen in the renewable energy industry. He has denied wrongdoing, but Di Maio has demanded that he be removed from his position until the investigation has been finished, saying he could return to his post if he is vindicated.
In response, a senior League official reportedly told reporters that he and others in the party are "sick and tired" of M5S, and urged Salvini to pursue another election.
Recent polls show the League with a plurality of popular support, polling at 33% compared with M5S's 22%.
But M5S isn't without a scandal of its own. Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Rome, was accused on Thursday in a press report of encouraging a Roman garbage-collection company to cook its books. Raggi responded in a Facebook post that she had merely pressured the executive because garbage has been piling up in the streets of Rome, something that has become a persistent problem in recent years.
In response, Salvini called for Raggi to resign. But while Raggi remains mayor of Rome, League officials are frustrated at M5S after Danilo Toninelli, a M5S minister, suspended Siri’s mandate had been suspended over the investigation, viewing it as an unjustified interference.
With the race for the European Parliament heating up, Salvini denied Di Maio's warnings that the coalition was teetering on the brink of collapse, and added that "the League wants to govern well and for a long time in the interests of Italians, the government crisis is only in Di Maio’s head," Salvini said in comments sent by his spokeswoman.
Edoardo Rixi, deputy minister in the Infrastructure Ministry, echoed frustrations with M5S, saying Salvini "isn't the only one who is sick and tired."
M5S is doing “all it can to make us vote in June," following the European elections in May.
However, Salvini is reportedly wary of calling a vote until the League can shore up its support in southern Italy, in addition to its stronghold in the North.
But as Italy turns to Beijing to help bail out its floundering economy, more political instability is probably the last thing the Italian economy - and its banking sector in particular - needs.