Five Star Movement to vote on whether to ditch leader Luigi di Maio as Italian coalition fractures
Luigi di Maio, deputy prime minister, has come under intense attack for the party’s dismal performance in the European elections, when it lost six million votes compared to its strong showing in last year’s Italian election.
From winning 33% of the national vote last March, the anti-establishment party plunged to just 17% in the European elections.
Five Star was hugely eclipsed by its coalition partner, the hard-Right League party of interior minister Matteo Salvini, which won 34% of the European vote.
The outcome amounted to an almost exact inversion of the results the two parties achieved in the general election last year.
The dramatic loss of support has led many in Five Star to question whether Mr Di Maio is still fit to lead the party.
Under Five Star’s system of direct democracy, the movement’s members will vote online on his future.
"You decide. I am asking to put my role as party leader to the vote," Mr Di Maio, 32, who is also labour and industry minister, wrote on the party’s blog.
“I call for a vote of members…on my role as political leader because it is right that you are the ones who express an opinion. If something needs changing within the movement, we’ll do it.”
The quietly-spoken Mr Di Maio, whose jobs prior to entering politics included selling drinks at Napoli football stadium, has been totally eclipsed by the rambunctious Mr Salvini since the coalition came to power last June.
Cartoonists in the Italian press portray him as an eager lapdog waiting on the every need of the League leader, who is portrayed in a black shirt and tasseled fez – symbols of Fascism.
The League has seen its support soar after Mr Salvini ordered the closure of Italian ports to NGO vessels that rescue migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean.
If Mr Di Maio is voted out, it is not clear who would replace him.
But in any case, Five Star is on the back foot.
Mr Salvini has for months behaved as if he is prime minister, elbowing aside not only Mr Di Maio but also the actual prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, a former lawyer who was chosen as a neutral mediator between the two very different coalition partners.
There is widespread speculation that increasing tensions between the League and Five Star could lead to the fall of the government and fresh elections, possibly in late September.