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Italy Protest Party Seeks Redemption Through Compromise

Deputy Speaker Luigi Di Maio, the top lawmaker in Italy’s main protest party, said his group must be more constructive and that an election-law compromise with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi might be the first step.

“Our goal is relatively small, meaning the electoral law, but from there, we’ll see,” Di Maio said yesterday in an interview at his office in Rome’s Chamber of Deputies. “It’s now up to us to convince Italians that we’re a trustworthy force for government.”

Di Maio, 27, is embracing dialogue after his Five Star Movement spent its first year in parliament denouncing the government and obstructing legislation. Help from Five Star and its 144 lawmakers might give Renzi, 39, the flexibility to pass a new election law, one of his top priorities.

Five Star published an open letter to Renzi two days ago requesting a meeting. Di Maio said his party hasn’t had a reply yet.

The current election rules have been blamed for fragmentation in parliament and government instability. Both Renzi and Five Star have said they want a rewrite that gives the biggest parties a chance to take a majority of the seats in the legislature even if they don’t capture 50 percent of the vote in an election.

Differences include Renzi’s push for runoff ballots and Five Star’s insistence that voters be given the opportunity to choose a specific candidate on a party list. Di Maio said he will take Renzi’s best offer and propose it to Five Star members in an Internet referendum.

“Then we’ll have a clear idea about what we can or cannot compromise on,” he said.

Grillo’s Child

Five Star’s transformation illustrates the challenges in store for Europe’s protest parties once the exhilaration of a first ballot-box victory wears off. Five Star, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo to denounce corruption and sweep established politicians out of office, dubbed itself the “French Revolution without the guillotine” shortly after its initial success.

Grillo won a quarter of the vote in the February 2013 election by tapping into voter frustration over recession and European Union rules. In last month’s EU election, that formula was replicated with success for anti-establishment groups in other countries across Europe, while in Italy, support for Five Star dropped by four percentage points.

Di Maio blamed himself and his colleagues, saying the party must be “less sensationalist” and do more to contribute to legislation. Grillo, 65, never joined parliament and continues to lead the party from outside Rome while he continues his satirical performances in theaters.

“Beppe Grillo got 25 percent by himself,” Di Maio said of the 2013 election. “This time we got 21 percent, what changed? We were around. We’re the ones, those who got elected last year, who have to do the self-criticism.”

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