Luigi Di Maio, leader of Italy’s ruling Five Star Movement, is set to step down in response to a collapse in support and party infighting, according to multiple reports in the Italian media.
Five Star, which governs Italy in coalition with the centre left Democratic party (PD), has suffered a wave of defections by MPs who have questioned the direction of the once radical and anti-establishment party under Mr Di Maio’s leadership.
La Repubblica and other Italian newspapers said Mr Di Maio, who is also Italy’s foreign minister, would announce his decision to resign as party leader on Wednesday. The reports said he would intend to stay in government.
Italian assets were under pressure following the fresh bout of political instability. The FTSE MIB index fell 0.5 per cent as bank shares hit a six-week low, while Italy’s government debt sold off.
The benchmark 10-year bond yield rose by six basis points to 1.427 per cent as investors moved out of the debt, while the premium that investors demand to hold Italian debt over Germany’s also widened.
The move comes ahead of a crucial regional election in Emilia-Romagna this weekend, where voters are expected to put the national government under further pressure. The PD is expected to lose substantial ground to Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, in an embarrassing setback in a traditionally leftwing region.
The Five Star-PD coalition has suffered multiple crises since taking office in September, but so far has been resolute in wanting to stay together to avoid fresh elections that could lead to Mr Salvini’s becoming Italy’s prime minister.
Mr Di Maio is due to meet senior Five Star figures on Wednesday afternoon and is expected to make an announcement on his future after this, said media reports. Party officials did not immediately comment.
Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, said on Wednesday that he did not want to comment on Mr Di Maio’s future. “If this is his decision then I will respect it,” Mr Conte said.
Five Star became Italy’s largest political force when it won 33 per cent of the vote in Italy’s last national elections in 2018. It formed a coalition with Mr Salvini’s anti-migration League.
Polling now shows the party’s support has almost halved to 16 per cent, stoking anger among activists and lawmakers.
After Mr Salvini brought down the curtain on the Five Star-League government in August last year, Mr Di Maio’s party formed an unexpected coalition with the PD, a party that used to be a political enemy.
Mr Di Maio has in recent weeks attempted to grapple with his internal critics by pledging to involve more lawmakers in party decisions. Yesterday two more Five Star MPs deserted the party and moved to the so-called mixed group in Italy’s parliament.
Five Star began life in 2009 as an online protest movement masterminded by Gianroberto Casaleggio, a web developer, and fronted by the politically incorrect comedian Beppe Grillo.
Casaleggio died in 2016, with his son Davide taking over the running of the party along with a committee of senior figures. Mr Grillo took less of a frontline role as leaders such as Mr Di Maio emerged to run Five Star’s daily political operations.
Additional reporting by Philip Georgiadis in London