Armed peace in the M5S

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At the height of another hell week, Beppe Grillo and Giuseppe Conte signed a precarious armed peace with the intention of buying time for their final confrontation. The truce permitted Luigi Di Maio and Roberto Fico to do their utmost to try to heal a fracture which, at this point, appears to be truly irreparable.

Let’s try to rewind the tape. After last week’s show of the Genoese comedian in the group room of M5S lawmakers, on Monday it was the former prime minister’s turn to take the initiative in a press conference that was very popular also via web. Conte gave a real ultimatum, demanding for himself a strong and exclusive leadership and declaring once again against the double-leader scheme envisaged by Grillo.

The reply was not long in coming. For the Movement founder, the former head of government would have neither the political vision nor the managerial skills necessary to relaunch the 5 Stars. A simply paradoxical turn of events if it is true that just a few months ago it was Grillo himself who asked Conte to take over the reins of his political creature in the darkest moment of its short history. The founder then launched an online consultation of M5S members to elect the new steering committee, to be held on the Rousseau platform.

Grillo’s announcement opened another battle front, this time with party regent Vito Crimi – guilty of having called the vote on the Sky Vote platform, set up in recent weeks with the advice of two different companies which have no ties with the Movement. Problem is that the M5S Statute establishes that Rousseau must be used both for voting and for the verification of voters: for this reason Crimi’s move risks opening a new legal dispute with an unpredictable outcome.

Thus, after acknowledging that among other things, expelling Grillo is substantially impracticable (indeed: a truly mission impossible under the current Statute), for Conte and his supporters the simplest option to get out of the impasse could only be a party break-up. After all, since the clash over the leadership of the Movement exploded, the fragmentation of the first group of Parliament into many sub-groups and internal factions went through a dramatic simplification: who is with the Genoese comedian and who is with the former premier.

The count has already started and the numbers are constantly being updated. The founder could count on about ninety few MPs, mainly concentrated in the lower house, like the former prime minister, who, however, would have his strong point in the greater following in the upper house. At Palazzo Madama the bulk of M5S senators are in fact in their second term and with Grillo at the head of the Movement they would have no chance of being re-elected, given that the two terms legislature limit would remain standing.

Opinion polls assign Conte’s party up to 15% of ratings, a significant and very attractive percentage that would be achieved by subtracting consensus from the M5sS (which risks falling below 10%) and the Democratic Party (which would fall at 14%). In fact, the Italian head of government during the first phase of the pandemic still boasts a very high confidence rate (44%), lower only than the two pillars of the current institutional architecture: presidents Sergio Mattarella and Mario Draghi.

Setting aside for a moment another potentially hot battle front (that of €12.6 million in reimbursements to parliamentary groups that fund the M5S political activity and which should be divided between Conte and Grillo), the birth of a possible Conte party would have a consequence on the balance of power in the ruling coalition. The weakening of 5-Star groups – to date the strongest in the Chamber and the Senate – would increase the importance of the center-right forces in the composite coalition that supports the Draghi government.

But it is above all on the race for the next Quirinale tenant that the shock wave of the M5S explosion would be felt with greater force. The great unknown is in fact who will be the “kingmaker” capable of managing the joint session of the House and Senate, directing lawmakers’ consent towards the election of the next President of the Republic. A clue in this sense is in the regret expressed by PD secretary Enrico Letta for the agreements with Conte thrown down the drain by the 5-Star crisis.