Five Star Movement chaos continues as court suspends Conte’s leadership

Italy's troubled Five Star Movement, a key part of the coalition government, was plunged into fresh turmoil on Tuesday after a court decision effectively removed its leader.

Five Star Movement chaos continues as court suspends Conte's leadership
Former Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte was elected President of the Five Star Movement in August 2021. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

A Naples court on Monday suspended changes to the party’s internal rules that allowed the election of former prime minister Giuseppe Conte as M5S leader last August.

The court had been asked to consider the case following complaints by Five Star supporters excluded from the leadership vote.

“We can’t deny it, the situation is very complicated,” Five Star founder Beppe Grillo – who would now appear to resume control – wrote in a Facebook message on Tuesday.

In 2018, the then proudly anti-establishment movement shook Italy and Europe by winning one-third of the vote and joining forces  with the hard-right League party to create a populist government led by Giuseppe Conte, who supposedly a neutral choice agreed on by both parties.

READ ALSO: Italian foreign minister Di Maio seeks ‘freedom’ in party rift

Conte since became leader of the Five Star Movement, after his coalition government collapsed triggering a government crisis last year leading to the appointment of Mario Draghi.

Five Star remains the largest party in parliament and in power as part of Draghi’s own broad coalition, but is plagued by infighting and floundering in the polls ahead of elections planned for next year.

It has dropped from almost 33 percent of the vote four years ago to around 15 percent of public support in early February, according to an average compiled by the YouTrend institute.

Five Star Movement founder Beppe Grillo (L) and former leader Luigi Di Maio pictured in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo on March 2nd, 2018. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Piergiorgio Corbetta, a professor at the University of Bologna, said the crisis was the inevitable consequence of internal tensions over those who want to fight the system and those who want power.

However, he said for now the disarray did not threaten Draghi’s coalition, just as Italy seeks to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everyone is afraid of upsetting the house of cards,” Corbetta told AFP.

Gianfranco Pasquino, professor of political science at Bologna, agreed that the danger to the government was “limited”.

“The fact is that M5S remains divided but it’s not enough of a reason to bring down the government,” he said.

Conte had been increasingly at odds with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, himself a former Five Star leader.

They clashed over the recent election of Italy’s president, a largely ceremonial but potentially influential position voted on by parliament.

At the weekend, Di Maio resigned from the Five Star’s steering committee in a bid to speak more freely about the direction of the party, suggesting further turbulence lies ahead.

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Italy plans to stop ‘revolving door’ between judges and politicians

Italian lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a planned reform aimed at stopping the 'revolving door' between justice and government, as part of wider changes to the country's creaking judicial system.

Italy plans to stop 'revolving door' between judges and politicians

The proposed reform, which still has to be approved by the Italian Senate in the coming weeks, imposes significant limitations on the number of magistrates, prosecutors and judges looking to go into politics – a frequent move in Italy.

Under the submitted changes, a magistrate wishing to stand for election, whether national, regional or local, will not be able to do so in the region where they have worked over the previous three years.

At the end of their mandate, magistrates who have held elective positions will not be able to return to the judiciary – they will be moved to non-jurisdictional posts at, for example, the Court of Auditors or the Supreme Court of Cassation, according to local media reports.

Furthermore, magistrates who have applied for elective positions but have not been successful for at least three years will no longer be able to work in the region where they ran for office. 

The reform is part of a wider programme of changes to Italy’s tortuous judicial system. This is required by the European Commission to unlock billions of euros in the form of post-pandemic recovery funds.

Public perception of the independence of Italian courts and judges is among the worst in Europe, according to the EU’s justice scoreboard.