Italy’s Five Star head says ready to negotiate for parliamentary majority

Vincenzo Pinto, AFP | M5S movement (Five Stars) leader Luigi Di Maio at a press conference Aug. 22, 2019 in Rome.

The leader of Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement on Thursday said he was ready to negotiate for a "solid majority" in parliament, two days after the disintegration of a dysfunctional coalition government.


"In the last few hours we have started necessary discussions to find a solid majority," said Luigi Di Maio, after holding talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, without specifying with which party.

The announcement came after two days of crisis talks led by Mattarella to see if a viable coalition could be formed following the break up of an alliance between Five Star (M5S) and the far-right League.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday after months of alliance sniping and a bid by League leader and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to force a snap poll, just 14 months after coming to power.

"The most convenient thing to do would be to go to the vote," Di Maio said.

"But the citizens voted for us to change Italy, and not the M5S."

A proposed alliance between M5S and the opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) -- previously almost unthinkable -- has appeared to be gaining traction.

After consulting with Matterella, PD leader Nicola Zingaretti said he wanted to form a new government but not "at any cost".

The PD and M5S have been at each other's throats for years -- but an alliance would see Salvini kicked out of government, a powerful motive for compromise.

Zingaretti has said the party would back an M5S coalition dependent on five conditions, including a radical shift in Italy's zero-tolerance policy on migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Zingaretti on Thursday also highlighted past disputes with Five Star, saying "it is not an easy choice".

'Makeshift majority'

Mattarella, the 78-year-old head of state, wields important powers including the ability to pick prime ministers.

He is considering a number of options, including the formation of a new coalition, a short-term technocratic government or an early election -- more than three years ahead of schedule.

The president wants a concrete plan in place by Monday, a source close to him was reported as saying by the Repubblica daily.

After meeting with Mattarella on Thursday, Salvini also offered to continue the coalition with M5S -- even though he pulled support from the alliance earlier this month.

He also called for early elections, saying "sovereignty belongs to the people".

Opinion polls suggest the League would win a new vote, opening up the possibility of an alliance with centre-right and far-right parties.

Meanwhile, former premier Silvio Berlusconi, head of centre-right Forza Italia, warned against forming a government with "a makeshift majority".

It would make "a mockery of the voters and be a betrayal of their will," he said.

Indebted economy

The political wrangling in the eurozone's third-largest economy came as markets welcomed the end of the unwieldy coalition, with the stock market up and Italian bonds rallying for a third day.

The nationalist, populist government's demonisation of migrants, promoted by Salvini in particular, and attempts to flout EU budget rules had angered many European leaders.

The country's debt ratio -- 132 percent of gross domestic product -- is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece, and youth unemployment is currently above 30 percent.

Governments have consistently struggled to bring down debt levels and unemployment.

Rome needs to approve a budget in the next few months or potentially face an automatic rise in value-added tax that would hit the least well-off Italian families the hardest and likely plunge the country into recession.

After last year's election it took months of wrangling before a government was formed.

If a PD-M5S tie-up emerges, it would realistically need support from smaller parties to be an effective government.

The parties are also considering a female PM, according to media reports, which would be a first for Italy.


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