ROME (AP) — Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is broadening its reach as it eyes national office, inviting some very establishment figures to a daylong summit Saturday on technology, science, jobs and the future.
The summit, which was intentionally low on political diatribe, marked a new phase for the grassroots protest movement that has upended the Italian political scene and now leads the polls as Italy prepares for a general election later this year or next.
And it provided strong evidence that the 5-Stars are attracting more than just the working-class backers typical of Europe's anti-establishment parties. The head of Google Italy, university professors and prominent journalists took part, though there were notable absences, including among 5-Star lawmakers and Italy's leading astronaut, who bailed at the last minute.
5-Star founder Beppe Grillo sat in the front row of the converted Olivetti typewriter factory in Ivrea, near Turin in northern Italy, watching as a next generation of 5-Star sympathizers outlined how Italy might emerge from years of economic stagnation and rising unemployment.
Recent polls have put the 5-Stars ahead of the ruling Democrats with some 32 percent of the vote. The movement blends an ideology-defying anti-bank, pro-green agenda with a social-media friendly "direct democracy" ethos, where members pick candidates and platforms online.
It has ruled out forming a coalition government and is hoping to reach the 40 percent of the vote threshold that would give it bonus seats in parliament. The party, though, has been divided of late by scandals engulfing its Rome mayor and Grillo himself, after he voided the candidate for mayor of Genoa who was chosen online and picked someone else instead.
Saturday's summit was preceded by the debut of a key behind-the-scenes player of the 5-Star Movement, Davide Casaleggio. He is the son of Gianroberto Casaleggio, who co-founded the movement with Grillo and was its political guru until his death last year.
Davide Casaleggio made his first prime-time TV appearance this week and was the brainchild behind Saturday's summit, which was billed as a memorial to his father on the anniversary of his death.