Italy's populists, far-right seek last-gasp govt deal

Rome (AFP) –


Italy's populist Five Star Movement and the far-right League asked Wednesday for another day to try to form a coalition government, with a green light from Silvio Berlusconi opening a way to end the country's political deadlock.

"The Five Star Movement and the League have informed the president that they are in talks to try to come to a possible government accord and that they need 24 hours to develop this initiative," said a statement from the presidential palace.

Crucially, former Italian premier Berlusconi later Wednesday signalled he would not block a possible coalition deal between the two parties.

According to Italian media, League leader Matteo Salvini's main political allies had been exerting strong pressure on Berlusconi to give his approval to a Five Star-League government, while the Italian tycoon's own Forza Italia party remains deeply divided on the issue.

"If another political force of the right-wing coalition wants to take on the responsibility of forming a government with the Five Star Movement we will take note of this choice with respect," Berlusconi said in a statement.

Berlusconi said the Five Star Movement did "not have the political maturity to assume this responsibility" but that an agreement between it and the League would not mark the end of the "alliance" between Forza Italia party and the League, especially in the regions they led together.

Italy has been locked in a political impasse since the March 4 election failed to produce a clear winner.

A right-wing coalition led by the nationalist League won the most seats at the polls while the Five Star led by Luigi Di Maio became the biggest single party, but neither obtained enough seats for a majority. To form a coalition they have to agree on a prime minister and a common programme.

"We are going to sit down at the table and begin to talk about the issues for the country. Then we will talk about names," Di Maio told the Italian press.

For his part Salvini said in a statement that "we still have to work on the programme, on dates, on the team and the things need doing... either we reach a conclusion, or we return to the voters".

After three failed rounds of consultations thus far, Italy has looked to be heading either for a caretaker government, chosen by the president, or fresh elections as early as July.

It had been widely expected that President Sergio Mattarella would nominate his pick for prime minister to lead a "neutral" government later Wednesday.

However, both the League and Five Star are staunchly opposed to a caretaker government and without their support the initiative would not pass a confidence vote in parliament.

Mattarella's response to the extension request was not immediately clear, although it is thought he would be unlikely to refuse.

For the past two months the two parties have been scrambling to reach an accord for a coalition government but have repeatedly hit a wall over the League's coalition partner Berlusconi -- who is himself barred from office.

Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio had insisted that the League ditch Berlusconi and Forza Italia as a prerequisite to forming a government together, something League leader Salvini refused.

The regional governor of Italy's northern Liguria region, Giovanni Toti, who holds a lot of clout within Forza Italia, had suggested earlier Wednesday that his party could exercise a "benevolent abstention" in the face of a coalition.