Five facts about Italy's anti-establishment upstarts


Rome (AFP)

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which exit polls from Italy's general election indicated will win around 30 percent of the vote, is a maverick group that has drawn support from a disillusioned electorate.

Here are five things to know about them:

- Comedy beginnings -

The M5S movement was founded by outspoken, wild-eyed former comic Beppe Grillo in 2009 as a protest movement against Italy's political old guard.

The 69-year-old remains a figurehead, though he has handed over leadership to sharp-suited disciple Luigi Di Maio.

Since its humble beginnings, the party has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence amid an outpouring of frustration and anger towards mainstream political parties.

- Internet democracy -

The movement calls itself "the first and only political party based on online participation and direct democracy."

Using an internet portal called "Rousseau", M5S uses online votes of members to decide its policies, draft legislation and candidates.

The platform is presented by the party as a reflection of its unique commitment to grassroots democracy and a new politics.

But the site has been criticised, notably by former members, for its lack of transparency and the party leadership's tight control over how it works.

- Basic universal income -

Italy has struggled to recover from the 2008 economic crisis: a sluggish economy has led to high unemployment and rising poverty.

M5S is proposing a universal basic income of 780 euros ($963) a month for those living in poverty.

The flagship measure has made it particularly popular with young voters in a country where unemployment for those aged 25-34 runs at 17 percent.

- Political flip-flopping-

M5S supports a hotchpotch of policies from across the political spectrum and has gained a reputation for political flip-flopping, leading their critics to brand them as immature and incompetent.

The party had promised its supporters a referendum on leaving the eurozone, but has had a change of heart in recent months.

Scathing comments about the European Union have given way to silence, with the question of Europe notable absent from the official M5S programme ahead of the vote.

- No strangers to success -

In the 2013 general election, M5S stunned traditional parties by garnering 25 percent of the vote in its first shot at national governance.

Since then the party has had a string of successes, gaining representatives at the helm of around 30 cities across the country, including Rome and Turin.

But it has not always been smooth sailing: the party has lost 39 MPs and senators from parliament since 2013, who have either switched allegiances or been expelled.