Ex-Premier Conte Loses Fight to Lead Italy’s Five Star Movement

Former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte thought he was getting a shot at leading the biggest party in parliament and reviving his political fortunes. Instead the Five Star founder pulled rank and shut him out.

Beppe Grillo is a former comic with a widely-followed and influential blog that he used to launch an anti-establishment political movement that became mainstream when it formed a surprising government with the populist anti-immigration League party in 2018 elections. Since then it’s plunged in the polls but remains the party with the most lawmakers in a series of caretaker administrations, first led by Conte and now by Mario Draghi.

In a damning post, Grillo said Conte “doesn’t have a political vision, or managerial skills. He doesn’t have any experience of organizations, or a talent for innovation.”

Conte owes his political career to Five Star, which picked the former law professor as a compromise choice for premier. He proved to be surprisingly resilient as leader of a second center-left coalition held together by the desire to avoid early elections that polls showed Five Star losing by a landslide.

In the end a tiny party withdrew its support and the head of state handed the reins to a high-caliber technocrat, a former president of the European Central Bank, to sheperd Italy through the pandemic.

During the coronavirus crisis Conte was quite popular, and while he was not formally attached to a party, the idea was that he could eventually lead one or form his own. The experience with Five Star has proved to be a flop as Conte and Grillo clashed almost from the start. Conte wanted autonomy to set the vision while Grillo was dismissive.

It remains to be seen if Conte, after his break-up with Five Star, decides to set up a party of his own -- with many Five Star lawmakers likely to ditch Grillo and rally to his side.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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