- Associated Press - Thursday, January 4, 2018

ROME (AP) - As Italy’s political parties scrambled to solidify coalitions and find candidates for the March 4 parliamentary election, the 5-Star Movement announced Thursday that one would-be lawmaker is the coast guard commander who famously cursed out the captain of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia.

The 5-Stars confirmed Thursday that Gregorio De Falco had nominated himself as a possible candidate. De Falco became a hero in Italy after recordings from the Jan. 13, 2012 Concordia disaster off Tuscany showed that he used colorful expletives to order Capt. Francesco Schettino to return to the doomed cruise ship to make sure all its passengers and crew had evacuated.

Schettino was later convicted of abandoning ship and other crimes related to the deaths of 32 people.

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The 5-Stars are the largest opposition party in parliament but have ruled out forming coalitions.

Recent polls give Italy’s center-right coalition the lead going into the election, with around 40 percent support. Ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi and the head of the anti-immigrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini, discussed strategy and platforms Wednesday ahead of a meeting next week.

Smaller parties, though, were still cobbling together alliances to put forward parliamentary candidates by the Jan. 29 deadline. Italy’s new voting system seeks to encourage stability and coalition-building through the creation of colleges that field candidates, but it has posed problems for niche parties trying to go it alone.

On Thursday, longtime radical leader Emma Bonino announced an alliance of her own after denouncing as undemocratic the new law’s requirement that new or small parties outside parliament get thousands of signatures before being allowed to field candidates. Bonino’s new +Europe party found an ally in the small center-left Democratic Center party, and can skip the signature-gathering effort.

The deal salvaged the longtime alliance between the radicals and the ruling Democratic Party, which has seen factions splinter off in the year since former Premier Matteo Renzi lost a political gamble with a failed referendum. The infighting has contributed to the center-left’s decreasing popularity in recent polls.

The 5-Stars, meanwhile, were having problems of their own after their online self-candidacy platform crashed. The 5-Star candidate for premier, Luigi Di Maio, said Thursday the greater-than-expected digital turnout was proof that the movement, which prides itself on its social media outreach, is the answer to political apathy in Italy.

He announced De Falco’s candidacy with pride, adding that De Falco was joined by thousands of journalists, professors and celebrities who nominated themselves as potential 5-Star candidates. They will be now considered by the movement’s leadership and then put to a vote by its members, part of the “direct democracy” the 5-Star Movement claims as its hallmark.

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