ROME — Once proudly anti-establishment, Italy’s 5Star Movement completed its transformation into a conventional political party after members approved a revamp pushed by former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Conte won overwhelming support for his plan to remodel the 5Stars, with a top-down power structure and formal headquarters.
Conte, who has no official party affiliation but led two coalition governments including the 5Stars, had been asked by the founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, to “refound” the movement after being ousted as prime minister in January in favor of Mario Draghi. Grillo initially rejected Conte’s plans but the two reached an agreement in July.
In a two-day online consultation of members, 87 percent voted in favor of his proposed new statute, with 61,000 of 113,000 eligible members casting a ballot, interim leader Vito Crimi announced on Facebook on Tuesday night, adding, “This statute tells us who we are and what we want. It gives us an identity.”
Since coming to power in 2018, the 5Stars have struggled with a loose organizational structure, which left decision-making responsibilities unclear. Since 2019 they have also been rudderless, after Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio resigned as leader, leading to a period of turbulence and internal schisms.
The populist movement won more than 33 percent of the vote in the last general election in 2018, more than any other party. But during its time in power — first in coalition with Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party, then with the center-left Democratic Party and now in a broad coalition under Draghi — the party has seen its support dwindle. It is currently fourth in opinion polls with around 15 percent of the vote.
The new statute provides for a more traditional party hierarchy, with the leader given total control over the political line and alliances. The local Meetup groups, where the original activists met and planned their assault on the establishment, are to be disbanded and replaced with new local groups under a central organization.
Even the original five stars, the founding tenets of the movement, were tweaked in the statute, with public water and economic development replaced by social justice and ecology.
Conte wrote in a Facebook post: “With the new statute, the Movement can count on a new structure, new tools, new roles, with useful new rules to regulate the internal structure and external relationships … Today’s vote is not an end but a new beginning.”
He insisted that the members will still have a say with direct democracy remaining “a founding element of our community.”
The online consultation of members took place on a new web platform for the first time after a painful divorce from the 5Stars’ original web platform run Davide Casaleggio, the son of another of the movement’s founders.
Before the vote, Casaleggio criticized Conte’s project saying that “nothing remains” of the original 5Stars and suggested they should change their name.
On Thursday and Friday, Conte will face a vote expected to confirm him as leader of the 5Stars, with little time to lose before the party selects candidates for local elections in major cities in October.