By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) – Support for Italy’s far-right League has fallen following weeks of feuding with its coalition partner the 5-Star Movement, opinion polls showed on Friday in the run-up to elections for the European Parliament in late May.
With backing for 5-Star holding steady, the League appeared to be paying the price for the constant cabinet tensions, which culminated this week in a junior League minister being turfed out of government after being engulfed in a corruption scandal.
Friday was the last day that opinion polls can be published in Italy ahead of the May 26 EU vote, with four separate surveys all showing the League, which is led by Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, in decline.
One poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper said support for the League had tumbled to 30.9% in May from 36.9% a month ago. Other surveys registered less dramatic falls, but all of them suggested the party had lost momentum after months of growth.
By contrast, Corriere said backing for 5-Star rose to 24.9% from a previous 22.3%, ending a long period of decline. However, a poll in la Repubblica saw 5-Star shedding support, easing to 22.6% from 23.2%.
All the polls put the opposition centre-left Democratic Party in third place on anywhere between 22.5% to 20.4% and all of them saw former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party stuck beneath 10%.
Salvini hopes to get a major boost at the EU ballot to enhance his position on the European stage as he draws together an alliance of eurosceptic, nationalist parties to challenge the mainstream forces that have long held sway in Brussels.
League officials say they will also seek to review the balance of power within the Italian government if they clearly outpace 5-Star and flip the result of the 2018 national vote.
But the latest battery of polls might not make happy reading for Salvini, signalling the first significant brake on his previously surging popularity and capping a bad week for him.
He suffered a rare tactical defeat at the hands of 5-Star on Wednesday when he was forced to accept the dismissal from government of his close economic adviser Armando Siri, who had been put under investigation for allegedly accepting a bribe.
Siri has denied any wrongdoing and Salvini had insisted he stay put until found guilty in a court of law, but 5-Star convinced Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that he had to go.
Salvini has been campaigning vigorously across Italy ahead of the EU vote, promoting hardline policies such as obligatory chemical castration for rapists and leaping to the defence of an avowed fascist publisher who got banned from a book fair.
“(His actions) have deterred a part of the electorate, especially more moderate elements which had recently got close to the League,” Corriere della Sera said in a commentary.
(Additional reporting by Emilio Parodi; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Gareth Jones)