Potential breakthrough in Italy's battle for parliament speakers


Rome (AFP)

Politicians in Italy appeared to reach an agreement on Saturday in the battle for speakers in both houses of parliament, which could lay the ground for the fight over who will lead a new government.

Following a stalemate in a second round of voting on Friday, the newly-elected Chamber of Deputies and the Senate gathered again on Saturday morning.

Leaders of the right-wing coalition, which won 37 percent of the vote in the March 4 elections, made a breakthrough after tense negotiations to pick Elisabetta Alberti Casellati for the presidency of the Senate.

Meanwhile, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5s) which garnered 33 percent of the national vote announced that party heavyweight Roberto Fico would be its candidate for the Chamber of Deputies.

The positions are important because until both speakers are chosen consultations between Italian President Sergio Mattarella and those competing to form a new government cannot begin.

Both Luigi Di Maio's M5s and the right-wing alliance, led by Matteo Salvini, are hoping for a chance to lead the country.

The two sides had been working on a deal that would let the right have the Senate speaker and see M5S take the lower house.

The right-wing coalition had been fielding Paolo Romani, economy minister in Silvio Berlusconi's last government and a member of the media mogul's Forza Italia party, for the post of Senate speaker, but M5S said it could not vote for Romani due to his 2014 conviction for embezzlement.

Saturday's announcements follow a strained few days as cracks widened within the right-wing coalition.

Salvini, the leader of the League which heads the right-wing alliance, enraged former prime minister Berlusconi by backing a candidate without consulting the veteran.

Berlusconi, currently banned from public office, branded Salvini's support for Anna Maria Bernini an "act of hostility" designed to fracture the coalition and push the League closer to M5S.

M5S and the right both say they are ready to work with any party that would be willing to adopt their programme, although the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), whose coalition came third with 23 percent, has refused to form an alliance with either of the two top groups.