Parachuted into office four years ago, Italy’s former premier Giuseppe Conte helped take down his successor and is now trying to revive the fortunes of his populist Five Star Movement.
The self-styled “people’s lawyer” was the first to withdraw support from Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government in July, ultimately leading to his resignation and the calling of Sunday’s snap elections.
Facing a collapse in support, Five Star had refused to back an aid package to counter inflation because it included a provision for a garbage incinerator in Rome — something the party has long opposed.
It was widely seen as a tactical attempt to win back the grassroots support which propelled Five Star to office with 33 percent of the vote in the last general election in 2018.
Plagued by in-fighting, defections and the compromises needed to stay in power, the movement had lost much of its status as an anti-establishment protest movement.
While campaigning, Conte has emphasised the fight against corruption and climate change, his opposition to arming Ukraine, and calls for action to tackle soaring inflation.
He also secured the apparent endorsement of former US president Donald Trump, who hosted Conte at the White House in July 2018.
“How is my guy doing?… yes Giuseppe,” said Trump earlier this month, according to La Repubblica daily.
– ‘Mr Nobody’ –
The uncharismatic but reassuring Conte had never been elected to office when he was asked to lead Italy’s government following March 2018 elections.
The Five Star had secured a stunning victory but could not govern alone, so formed a fractious coalition with the far-right League, with which it shared concerns over immigration and the EU.
Dubbed “Mr Nobody”, Conte initially found himself in the role of arbiter between then Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini.
But he turned the tables on Salvini when, buoyed by a bumper crop of European election results, the League leader quit the government in August 2019 in a bid to force new polls.
Conte himself resigned, lashing out at Salvini for pursuing his own interests, and went on to preside over an unlikely coalition between Five Star and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), two former sworn enemies.
When Italy became the first European country to face the full force of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, Conte seemed to many terrified Italians a safe pair of hands.
He eventually secured for Italy the largest slice of massive EU post-virus recovery fund, worth around 200 billion euros.
Conte’s coalition collapsed in early 2021 but Five Star stayed in office as part of a rainbow government under former European Central Bank chief Draghi.
Born in 1964 in the tiny village of Volturara Appula in the southern region of Puglia, Conte was a law lecturer at the University of Florence.
A devout Catholic and former leftist turned M5S supporter, he also taught at Rome’s Luiss University –…