Italy’s Conte lays down conditions for becoming leader of 5Stars

ROME — Former Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has told the 5Star Movement that he wants far greater powers if he becomes leader of the party. 

Conte has no formal affiliation with any political party but has led two coalition governments that included the 5Stars.

After Conte was ousted in favor of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi earlier this year, comedian Beppe Grillo, the founder of the 5Stars, asked Conte to “refound” the movement. In April, Conte accepted, but said it must be “a complete regeneration” and not “just marketing.”

But disagreements over Conte’s plans for modernizing the party — including a reduction in Grillo’s powers — have come to a head in recent weeks.  

The row escalated last week when Grillo reportedly told 5Star MPs that Conte “needs to study and learn what the 5Stars are,” adding: “I am the founder, not some asshole.”

At a press conference in Rome on Monday, Conte brushed aside Grillo’s comments, saying there was no need for a public apology.

While Grillo will always be the “guardian of the 5Stars’ values,” Conte said, he must “decide whether to be a generous father who lets his child grow up or a father overlord that prevents his child’s emancipation.”

Conte has not yet published his plans for the movement, but has set out conditions for his involvement, including the ability to set the political line and power over communications.

“A political force with the ambition to lead the country cannot have a half leader,” he said, adding that such a political force “cannot have a shadow leader and a frontman. Or anyway, that frontman won’t be me.”

Conte invited the members of the movement to read his plans and vote on them, but warned that he will walk away if he can’t command a large majority of support. “I need a lot of enthusiasm … from Beppe and the movement. If I get that I will put my whole soul into the project.”

Grillo’s anxieties reflect unease among some activists and parliamentarians that Conte wants to reorganize the 5Stars, transforming the movement into a traditional top-down political party full of professional politicians. The original 5Stars sought to have civilian representation by allowing a maximum of two mandates to be served. The members voted for a five-person leadership council last year, but Conte’s plan calls for a single leader.

If Conte’s demands are not met, some in the 5Stars fear he could bring down the movement by forming his own party. A new poll for il Giorno found support from 16-18 percent of voters for a hypothetical new party led by Conte, with the 5Stars back on 12 percent, a fall of 4-5 percentage points.  

But Conte dismissed talk of founding a new party, saying “those who know me know I have no double agenda.”

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