ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a technocrat who had previously refused any direct party affiliation, on Sunday took on the task of reviving the fortunes of the 5-Star Movement as it struggles to find a way out of a political crisis.
5-Star, the largest group in parliament thanks to its triumph at a 2018 election when it won 32.7% of the vote, has seen its support shrink steadily and is now polling at around 15%.
Its decision this month to support the new government of national unity led by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi further divided and weakened it, triggering the defection of members who deemed it a betrayal of 5-Star’s original anti-establishment identity.
“Giuseppe Conte has accepted the task … of drawing up a project to refound the 5-Star Movement,” the party said after a Rome meeting between Conte and 5-Star’s top brass including its founder, former comedian Beppe Grillo.
It said Conte would lead “a total restructuring” of 5-Star, created by Grillo in 2009 as an anti-system protest movement.
Ecology and the fight against inequality and corruption will remain central planks of 5-Star’s platform, the party said in a message on Facebook, adding that it would work increasingly closely with associations and movements not directly involved in party politics.
Conte is one of Italy’s most popular politicians and has always been close to 5-Star. A survey by the Ipsos agency in January gave him an approval rating of around 56%.
By tying his fortunes to 5-Star, Conte will lose his former status as a non-partisan mediator between 5-Star and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the main backers of his government which collapsed in January due to a coalition rupture.
Nonetheless, he is expected to try to foster a stable alliance with the PD to try to compete with the rightist bloc of parties led by Matteo Salvini’s League which currently lead in opinion polls. The next election is due in 2023.
After Sunday’s development, it is expected that Conte will soon be formally named as the new 5-Star leader, replacing caretaker Vito Crimi. Alternatively, he may join a steering committee along with a small group of other senior members.