Five Star Members Question Leadership After Loss in Local Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s populist coalition looked ever more precarious after the Five Star Movement emerged as the big loser in a regional election for the second time this month, with some loyalists calling for new leadership of the insurgent party.

With dissent against Deputy Prime Minister and party chief Luigi De Maio growing, Five Star lost more than two-thirds of its support in Sunday’s regional election in Sardinia.

The party’s candidate for head of the regional administration secured just 11 percent of votes, compared with 42.5 percent in last year’s general election when Five Star was the biggest vote-getter.

Five Star Members Question Leadership After Loss in Local Vote

Di Maio is fighting to maintain his credibility with Five Star members after being eclipsed by coalition partner Matteo Salvini of the anti-migrant League. Polls show the League is set to post significant gains in May’s European Parliament election as Salvini’s every-man appeal resonates with voters.

"The Sardinia outcome adds pressure on Di Maio ahead of the European Union elections," said Francesco Galietti, head of Rome-based political consultancy Policy Sonar. "Five Star could blow up altogether if the party gets less than 20 percent of votes in the EU ballot."

Some party lawmakers are now publicly raising doubts about Di Maio, with Five Star Senator Paola Nugnes saying his leadership is “in question” after the loss in Sardinia, Corriere della Sera reported Tuesday.

Di Maio appears to be in full damage-control mode, calling for reforms including possibly allowing electoral alliances -- long a taboo for the insurgent movement -- and changes to its structure. Five Star is expected to begin submitting proposals to supporters for an online vote as soon as this week.

Though his coalition partner and sometime rival appears weakened, Salvini denies he’s looking for other options. With potential allies from the center-right such as former premier Silvio Berlusconi continuing to court the League, Salvini said the government will serve out its term, according to comments cited by newspapers la Repubblica and Corriere della Sera on Tuesday.

The center-right bloc led by League Senator Christian Solinas was the top vote-getter in Sunday’s ballot, followed by center-left candidate Massimo Zedda.

Salvini has brusquely denied any interest in new alliances, saying that, if Berlusconi calls, “I’ll take my phone off the hook.”

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