This paper is a single-country case study and its aim is to analyze the development and structural changes in the Italian populist Five Star Movement (M5S) before and after it became a relevant part of the Italian political system. The M5S started as an extra-parliamentarian protest movement rigorously governed by an indisputable leader Beppe Grillo but especially after the parliamentary elections in 2013 it became the most popular subject in the country with a significant number of deputies in both chambers of parliament which forced the movement to adopt a series of structural changes.
The first goal of this paper is to analyze the structural factors which helped the M5S to obtain such unprecedented results and become a strong player in Italian politics using long-term frustration with political elites and the poor functioning of the current Italian political system. This was only partially connected with the period of economic crisis which worked more as an accelerator of populist ideas than as a real structural factor. The M5S, as a classic example of a protest party, used more an anti-political and anti-establishment rhetoric in order to attract people from both parts of the political spectrum without ideological distinction. More recently, the party has focused more on mainstream topics and shown a strong office-seeking attitudes.
That is why the main goal of this paper is to analyze this shift in the party organization towards a more institutionalized subject with less direct and arbitrary control from the “enlightened” leader and to explain the main structural factors which contributed to this change (role of the media, new electoral system, style of politics of Matteo Renzi, “going mainstream” in order to get more votes, declining political appeal of Grillo).
The second goal of the paper is to explain how the current development of the M5S has influenced the movement’s internal cohesion and compactness especially regarding the loyalty of its parliamentarians.