Populist power grab foiled as Italy’s Five Star Movement backs opposition deal
Hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini had quit the coalition in the hope of forcing elections he believed would put him in power.
Activists from Italy’s populist Five-Star Movement voted overwhelmingly in an online ballot to approve a deal for a governing coalition with the rival, mainstream Democrats that would thwart popular right-wing leader Matteo Salvini’s quest for early elections.
The Five-Stars’ leader, Luigi Di Maio, told reporters that 80% of those voting said “yes”.
The result paves the way for a second government headed by premier Giuseppe Conte.
The first, a coalition of the Five-Stars and Mr Salvini’s anti-migrant League, collapsed last month when Mr Salvini pulled his support in a gamble for early elections from which he hoped to emerge as premier himself.
It was unclear when Mr Conte might announce he has nailed down a Cabinet for the coalition.
A Democratic Party leader, Graziano Del Rio, told reporters work to flesh out the Cabinet and coalition policies was “practically complete”.
Infighting has plagued both the centre-left Democrats and the Five-Stars.
The bickering risks eroding a relatively narrow majority the two parties would have in Parliament, where Mr Conte must win required confidence votes in the legislature’s two chambers.
Only about 115,000 people were eligible to vote on the Five-Stars’ online platform, dubbed Rousseau, compared with 10 million Italians who cast votes for the Five-Stars in the March 2018 election that brought them into national power for the first time.
But Mr Di Maio, who was one of two deputy premiers in Mr Conte’s first government, along with hardline Interior Minister Salvini, exuded confidence.
“We were always seen as a peril, but we have now shown to have at our core the Italians’ interests,” Mr Di Maio said.
“We can assure stability, this is a revolutionary fact,” he said referring to the ambitious goal of keeping the next government going until elections are formally due in 2023.
Italy’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, last week asked Mr Conte to try to form a new coalition after a round of talks with party leaders.
Mr Salvini was quick to heap scorn on the apparently imminent birth of another Conte government with the Five-Stars as the senior partner.
Mr Salvini and his anti-migrant, “Italians first” League have soared in popularity since the 2018 election in which his party finished behind the Five-Stars, and he was betting that elections soon would catapult him into the premiership.
“They can’t escape the ballot box forever,” Mr Salvini tweeted.
As recently as a few days ago, Mr Salvini was still trying to entice Mr Di Maio into another coalition deal when he realised Italy was not getting the early elections he had counted on when he turned his back on Mr Conte.