Italian president moots 'neutral' government as crisis lingers

Rome (AFP) –


Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Monday proposed the formation of a "neutral" government to steer the country until December if bickering political parties fail to form a ruling coalition after inconclusive elections in March.

Mattarella called on the warring parties to show "responsibility" and support his as yet unnamed government, without which he said he would convene elections in July or in the autumn.

"The parties need to choose, we can't wait any longer," said Mattarella, speaking to reporters after a third round of consultations failed to break the two-month stalemate.

However parliamentary approval for the government proposed by Mattarella looks unlikely, as the leaders of Italy's largest party, the Five Star Movement (M5S), and a right-wing coalition led by the nationalist League, which won the most votes in March polls, have both insisted on July elections.

"It's crucial that the vote of the people is respected. So it's either a centre-right government or elections as soon as possible," said League leader Matteo Salvini after Mattarella spoke.

Luigi Di Maio, head of M5S said on Twitter: "No confidence in a 'neutral' government, which is synonymous with technical government. We should go to the polls in July."

The only major political force to support Mattarella's idea was acting leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), whose acting leader Maurizio Martina echoed "the president's call for responsibility."

"We hope that it's heard by all political forces. The PD will not fall short in its support for his initiative," said Martina.

- Deadlock -

The president outlined an administration that would help Italy maintain its international obligations, including June's European Council meeting, and approve the country's 2019 budget.

The government would then dissolve at the end of the year ahead of elections to be held at the start of 2019.

Italy has been waiting since the March 4 general election for a new government, as negotiations between the parties have failed to break the deadlock.

Talks between the M5S and the right looked to have been smoothed out when the pair struck a deal over the selection of speakers for the upper house Senate and lower house Chamber of Deputies in late March.

But they collapsed after Salvini repeatedly refused Di Maio's demand that he dump coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi and agree upon a German-style "government contract" as an independent party.

Last month Mattarella then tried to see if a pact could be made between the M5S, which picked up just under 33 percent of the vote, and the PD, who despite flopping to third place had enough seats to form a majority with Di Maio's party.

But that possibility was ruled out on Thursday, when the PD's national leadership voted unanimously not to engage in government talks with the M5S, just days after former prime minister Matteo Renzi refused talks.

Renzi still wields huge influence among the PD's MPs and senators, many of whom are hostile to the M5S after it ferociously criticised them when they governed Italy.