Analysis. The Five Star Movement leader announced he would relinquish the post of vice-prime minister after Beppe Grillo himself spoke up against the idea. Tonight the results of a Rousseau vote will precipitate smooth sailing or a bumpy road for the presumptive yellow-red government.

Di Maio clears the way for an agreement, Rousseau now has the last word

There is a clear path forward—at least as concerns the negotiations between the parties. Di Maio will not be vice-prime minister anymore, but he will hold one of the top-level portfolios. He will, in any case, be the top figure on the M5S team, since Conte himself has made it clear that he is not a part of the Five Star Movement. 

There still remains the wildcard of the consultation on the Rousseau platform, whose result will be revealed today after the online voting by M5S members closes at 6 p.m.. And there are still doubts about the numbers that the new government will be able to count on in the Senate. A negative vote, either on the Rousseau platform or in the Senate, would be enough to sink the government, and even narrow victories would make for a very bumpy road ahead.

At the end of yet another day of summits and meetings, the insurmountable obstacle in the path of any agreement was finally removed: Di Maio agreed to renounce the post of vice-prime minister, announcing this personally in a video published on Facebook. The political leader of the M5S agreed with the proposal made on Sunday by the PD’s Dario Franceschini, which reiterated one originally made by Beppe Grillo himself: no vice-prime ministers at all. 

However, he still insisted that, contrary to what the Democratic Party is saying, “Conte is a non-partisan prime minister,” and thus “if there had been a vice-prime minister from the Democratic Party, in that case it was fair for there to be one from the M5S as well.” While his grammar had a lot of room for improvement, the thorny issue was not grammatical, but political—and thus, by dropping the demand, the leader of the M5S put that particular controversy to rest.

Shortly afterwards, Zingaretti reiterated his “optimism,” himself an old-fashioned type who avoids posting on Facebook and instead prefers terse statements read out to reporters. He claimed “steps forward” had been made, while making it clear that his vision for the government-to-be was the very opposite of how Di Maio sees it.

In Zingaretti’s view, we are moving toward a government that would “radically change the one that we have seen so far”—i.e. the very one that Di Maio is boasting of and claiming as a grand achievement. In this regard, Di Maio kept things vague, saying that he wanted to go forward on the same path, with the support of anyone who was willing to lend him a hand—which, in our case, is the unmentionable, and therefore unmentioned, PD.

Di Maio’s step back was also influenced to some extent by Grillo’s newest condemnation, delivered Monday in a column in the Fatto Quotidiano, where the M5S founder says about “Luigi” that he seems “unable to grasp the beauty inherent in being able to change things,” and that he is playing games with “points [of the government program] that keep multiplying just like [the loyalty points] at the Standa stores.” (He refers to Standa, a now-defunct chain of Italian department stores that was notorious for its promotion of loyalty points schemes during the ‘90s.) 

The M5S founder pointed out in no uncertain terms that he was “pissed off”—and it was hardly a coincidence that on the same day, Di Maio called all his staff to a meeting, declared himself proud of the outgoing ministers and the work they have done and stressed that everything that has been achieved so far depends on the members’ vote today on the Rousseau platform. Patuanelli and Di Stefano also confirmed it: “If the ‘no’ side wins, Conte must accept the consequences.” 

It is fair to say that this vote is the last hurdle which needs to be overcome. As for Di Battista, he chose to say nothing when asked about how he would vote; while Di Maio himself, in his video, said there was “no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to vote.” Furthermore, it was reported that the first version of the question that was to be submitted today to M5S members would place the ‘No’ choice before the ‘Yes,’ barring some last-minute correction.

A defeat in this online vote would be fatal for the new government. A narrow victory—something the Democratic Party is already taking for granted—would not take anything off the table, but it would boost Di Maio’s own status. As the “political leader” of the M5S, he would claim for himself the responsibility of being a guarantor on behalf of that part of the Movement which is opposed to the government agreement. He would end up having even greater power if Di Battista were to be one of the ministers, an idea that was floated Monday. This is probably not a serious prospect, but if it turned out to be, it would not be easy for the Democratic Party to swallow such a bitter pill yet again.

Before Di Maio’s Facebook video, Conte also addressed the M5S base on the same platform, asking them to give him a favorable vote. “With Zingaretti and Di Maio, we have a great opportunity to improve and change Italy, to begin a season of reform. We have good ideas and grand ones.” Then he took the bull by the horns: “I am not oblivious to the reasons behind your concern. I remember, however, that the M5S said very clearly that if they didn’t win a majority, they would implement their program together with those forces who are willing to do so.”

Will that be enough, in the end, to convince a majority of the M5S members voting on the platform? Most likely it will, but winning an overwhelming majority is still unlikely. The reality is that a real political conflict has opened up for the first time within the “monolithic” M5S, which will play out in the actions of the new government, and whose outcome, in terms of the final power balance achieved, will determine both the stability of the government and the coordinates of the entire Italian political context for the future.

If the government project makes it past the hurdle of the Rousseau vote, it will have to face another one: the confidence vote in Parliament. If the two major parties in the alliance go forward alone, they will not have a Senate majority. On Monday, the Lega floated the rumor—while later denying they had any hand in this—that there are no less than nine sitting M5S senators who are willing to trade a vote against the new government for a safe seat in the next elections. Whether this is true or not, the M5S will most likely lose some votes from among their ranks—and not just Paragone’s. 

However, last evening marked the first occasion when a meeting of the delegations of the coalition parties was officially expanded to include LeU, who are set to join the new majority, adding a few highly valuable votes, and probably also getting some posts in the government. This solution would ensure that the government will pass the confidence vote.

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