Members of Itay’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) party are voting online on whether they want their party to attempt to form a coalition government with the Democratic party (PD).
Last week, the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was tasked with securing a pact between the two parties and staving off early elections after Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League, collapsed its coalition with M5S.
M5S, stung by what it saw as a betrayal and keen to avoid a return to the ballot box, agreed to make an attempt to govern with the centre-left PD, which is in the process of rebuilding after a string of election defeats.
About 100,000 people who subscribe to M5S’s Rousseau website have from 9am to 6pm on Tuesday to answer the question: “Do you agree that the Five Star Movement should form a government together with the Democratic party, chaired by Giuseppe Conte?”
Conte on Monday delivered a speech to the Rousseau subscribers: “I understand your concerns. But I’d also like to remember that the M5S, before the elections last year, had said they were ready to join any political force that was ready to carry out the Movement’s political agenda. Today, we have a great chance to change this country.”
On Sunday an M5S blog said the government programme agreed with PS would be available online to members when voting starts.
The M5S senate whip, Stefano Patuanelli, said on Monday that if a majority of participants in the polls voted “no” then Conte would have to tell the president, Sergio Mattarella, that his attempt to form a government had failed. The M5S leader, Luigi Di Maio, told a meeting of his deputies that everything depended on the Rousseau vote.
Web-based direct democracy has been one of M5S’s core principles since it was founded in 2009 by the comedian Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio, an entrepreneur who died three years ago.
In its early years, the movement used its website and Grillo’s blog to debate and hold votes before Rousseau, a purpose-built platform named after the 18th-century Swiss-born philosopher, was developed and introduced in 2016.
But the system has been plagued by hacking attacks during key votes, and in April Italy’s data protection authority fined the company that runs the platform €50,000 (£45,000) for failing to protect users’ personal details.
M5S has held dozens of online votes on key decisions, including one to elect Di Maio and another on whether to enter its previous coalition with the League. The most recent online ballot was on whether to vote in parliament to defend Salvini from prosecution for preventing migrants disembarking from an Italian coastguard ship.
Italy was plunged into chaos last month when Salvini withdrew the League from its fractious alliance with M5S, as he sought to exploit his party’s popularity to bring about snap elections and become prime minister.
The dramatic move threatened to create a fully far-right government. But Salvini, whose tactics have dented his popularity in recent weeks, had not banked on M5S teaming up with the PD. Though the two parties are longstanding enemies, they are also the two largest parties in parliament.
If Conte fails to form a new government, Mattarella is likely to call for new elections.
The League remains the most popular party, despite toppling the government. A poll published on Saturday by Corriere della Sera showed support for the League fell to 31.8% from a mid-July record high of 35.9%. M5S rose almost seven percentage points from mid-July to 24.2% according to the same poll, while the PD rose marginally to 22.3%.