ROME, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Italy’s former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been officially elected leader of the 5-Star Movement, ending months of uncertainty and division since he was first asked to head up the troubled party in February.
5-Star is the largest group in parliament following its triumph at 2018 elections when it took 32% of the vote, but its support has ebbed due to infighting and policy U-turns and it is now polling at around 16%.
Conte, who opinion polls show is Italy’s second most popular politician after Prime Minister Mario Draghi having earned widespread respect for guiding Italy through the worst of the coronavirus crisis, was elected late on Friday after a two-day online vote by the party’s members.
Some 93% of those who voted answered yes to the question “are you in favour of the election of professor Giuseppe Conte as president of the 5-Star Movement.” There were no other candidates.
“The hard work of these last months has paid off and now we can start from a solid base,” Conte said on Facebook. He promised to tour Italy from September to meet 5-Star supporters and gather ideas for its programme.
5-Star is part of Draghi’s national unity government but often appears uneasy in the ruling coalition. In the most recent example, after drawn-out negotiations it secured changes to a reform of the justice system that had been backed by most of the other parties.
Conte, a former law professor who previously had no party affiliation, agreed to take the reins of 5-Star after his coalition government collapsed seven months ago and he was replaced by Draghi as premier.
He was asked to take charge by 73-year-old former comedian Beppe Grillo, who founded 5-Star in 2009 as an anti-establishment protest movement.
However, the former premier’s appointment proved far more problematic than expected as the two men argued over Grillo’s future role in the party, and at one point Conte appeared on the verge of pulling out.
In recent years 5-Star has gradually abandoned its anti-establishment roots and moved towards the centre-left political mainstream. (Reporting By Gavin Jones; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)