Italy's 5-Star implosion may claim party leader Di Maio

The head of Italy's 5-Star Movement met with ministers Wednesday amid rumors he would step aside as party leader following a string of parliamentary defections, falling poll numbers and questions about t he movement's future.

Party leader Luigi Di Maio entered and left the meeting at the premier’s Chigi palace without comment.

But in a Facebook post, he promised that later Wednesday he would have “important things to say." Italian newspapers have speculated for days that he would step aside as party leader, while remaining as Italy's foreign minister.

The 5-Stars have been in crisis for months, beset by infighting and the defections or expulsions of 31 lawmakers since the party won 33% of the vote in the 2018 election.

It was the 5-Stars' biggest victory nationally since its birth as a grassroots anti-establishment protest movement led by comic Beppe Grillo.

But analysts have long said the party has struggled to pivot into an effective governing force, damaged by its uneasy governing alliances first with the right-wing League party and now the center-left Democratic Party. In the process, it has alienated voters by defying some of its core values.

The conflict is coming to a head a few days before a regional election this weekend that is likely to see Matteo Salvini’s League party score well in the traditional leftist stronghold of Emilia Romagna.

Latest polls showed the League and the Democratic candidate running close.

Analyst Massimiliano Panarari, writing Wednesday in the La Stampa newspaper, said a decision by Di Maio to step aside now as party leader would spare him blame should the candidate closest to the ruling coalition, Democrat Stefano Bonaccini, lose.

The 5-Stars' support has now shrunk to polling nationally only around 15-16%.

Premier Giuseppe Conte said he would respect Di Maio's decision, while dismissing suggestions that his resignation as party leader could destabilize the government.

“Certainly, I would be sorry on a personal level," he told RTL102 radio.