Italy's 5-Star leader pledges to support Draghi despite schism
ROME, June 22 (Reuters) - Italy's 5-Star Movement is not considering leaving Mario Draghi's government, party chief Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday, dismissing suggestions he could withdraw after his group broke in two.
Following weeks of tension with Conte, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio left the 5-Star to form a new parliamentary group, in a schism that threatens to bring fresh instability to Draghi's broad coalition. read more
The 5-Star triumphed at 2018 elections when it took 33% of the vote but is now polling at less than half that level.
Following Di Maio's move, there was speculation Conte could quit the government to try to halt 5-Star's slide in support.
"Support for Draghi is not under discussion," Conte, a former prime minister, told reporters following a meeting of the party's leadership.
Di Maio's new group, Together for the Future, includes 51 members at the lower house and political sources said at least 10 would join in the upper house Senate.
As a result, the 5-Star is no longer the largest group in parliament, ceding that position to the rightist League.
Di Maio has accused Conte of undermining efforts to support Ukraine and of weakening Rome's standing within the European Union, after the 5-Star became increasingly critical about sending weapons to Ukraine.
But Conte said no one should question the 5-Star's pro-EU and pro-NATO stance. "I have been prime minister ... I cannot accept any lessons on this," he said.
Although he has denied suggestions he might pull out of the coalition, party sources said this could not be ruled out ahead of national elections slated for 2023.
Alessandro Di Battista, a former 5-Star heavyweight who quit the group last year after it decided to join Draghi's cabinet, urged it to go immediately into opposition.
"Why the hell are you still in there? Get out of that vile mess. You didn't count for anything before let alone now. Is that so difficult to understand?", he said.
If 5-Star does pull out of the government, Draghi would still muster a majority in parliament.