Italy's Conte secures backing to form new coalition government

Five Star Movement and Democratic Party forge coalition deal following far-right party's failed bid to seize power.

    If the new coalition collapses, a new election could be held as soon as November [File: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu]
    If the new coalition collapses, a new election could be held as soon as November [File: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu]

    Italy's President Sergio Mattarella has summoned Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for a meeting on Thursday morning, signalling that he will give him a mandate to form a new government after the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party (PD) reached a coalition deal.

    A presidential official said on Wednesday that the meeting between Mattarella and Conte will take the place the following day at 9:30am (07:30 GMT).

    The development comes about two weeks after the far-right League party led by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini sparked a political crisis by exiting the coalition government with an aim of seizing power.

    Salvini had called for fresh elections that could have seen his populist party - buoyed by a brutal crackdown on migration and humanitarian vessels operating in the Mediterranean Sea - elected.

    But elections are not due for another three and a half years, and Mattarella - as head of state - invited the Senate's elected parties to form an alternative coalition.

    Fraught negotiations between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement - the largest grouping in the parliament and formerly the senior governing partner in the coalition with League - and the centre-left PD appeared to be on the brink of collapse, but were revived at the last minute on Tuesday as the once bitter rivals attempted to form a new administration.

    With the agreement between the two, the far-right League has now unceremoniously been booted from power.

    But the new coalition is seen as fragile and facing many obstacles, including cabinet negotiations; if it collapses, Italy will likely go back to the polls, and Salvini, the poster-boy of far-right anti-immigration populists across Europe, will have another crack at becoming Italy's next prime minister.

    Shaky talks

    As the coalitions talks faltered, Mattarella had on Monday allowed an extra day for negotiations, interpreted by some as a hopeful sign that a deal may be in the works - but the Five Stars issued a sharp statement early on Tuesday accusing the PD of rejecting its demand that Conte lead any new coalition.

    It said the talks would be at a standstill until the centre-left changed its attitude, insisting its choice of prime minister was a "red line".

    Just a few hours later, as key PD figures met in central Rome to discuss tactics, the party's Andrea Marcucci told journalists "the negotiations have resumed".

    He said he was "optimistic" a deal could be reached in time.

    On Wednesday, Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Five Star Movement, said PD agreed that Conte should be reappointed prime minister.

    "Today, we told the president of the republic that there is a political agreement with the Democratic Party that Giuseppe Conte may be again given a mandate as prime minister," Di Maio said.

    He also said he had turned down an offer from the League, his party's former far-right ally, to become prime minister himself in return for renewing their alliance.

    "I do not recant the work done together in these 14 months," he added, referring to the collapsed coalition.

    Trump's influence?

    Mattarella has said that any new coalition must have an agreed platform that can pass through Parliament, after months of political clashes between the Five Star Movement and the League over several high-profile policies.

    The PD wanted a complete shake-up of the cabinet and was initially unwilling to endorse Conte - who it criticised for having accepted Salvini's anti-migrant decrees - serve another term as prime minister.

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    But as the political wrangling continued, the 55-year-old lawyer received the endorsement of US President Donald Trump.

    "Starting to look good for the highly respected Prime Minister of the Italian Republic, Giuseppe Conte," Trump tweeted.

    "Represented Italy powerfully at the G-7. Loves his Country greatly & works well with the USA. A very talented man who will hopefully remain Prime Minister!"

    The Five Star Movement said it welcomed the PD's change of heart.

    "We say 'yes' to talks on a government programme and issues," it said in a note.

    It had earlier tartly reminded the PD that it holds more seats in Parliament, having won a party record of 32 percent of the vote at elections in 2018, though its popularity has since sunk, according to opinion polls.

    Election?

    If the new coalition collapses, a new election could be held as soon as November, and a return to the polls is expected to favour Salvini, who has been openly mocking the Five Star Movement's and the PD's efforts at courtship.

    "Who is afraid of Italians' votes? Not us" he said on Facebook, insisting an election was the only fair way to resolve the crisis he triggered.

    The clock is ticking to ease political turmoil, with Italy under pressure to approve a budget that will be acceptable to the European Union.

    If it fails to do so it could face an automatic rise in value-added tax that would hit the least well-off families the hardest and could plunge the eurozone's third-largest economy into recession.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies