Italy's Five Star Movement approves coalition with old foe

Party base's overwhelming support for coalition with centre-left Democratic Party offsets possibility of snap elections.

    Party leader Luigi Di Maio said 80 percent of members voted yes to form a government [Ciro de Luca/Reuters]
    Party leader Luigi Di Maio said 80 percent of members voted yes to form a government [Ciro de Luca/Reuters]

    Members of Italy's Five Star Movement on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted in favour of forming a government with the centre-left, pulling the country back from the brink of snap elections.

    Party leader Luigi Di Maio said about 80 percent of Five Star members voted "yes" to backing a Five Star-Democratic Party (PD) government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

    The vote was carried out on the movement's Rousseau online platform, an exercise in the anti-establishment party's much-vaunted "digital democracy". Nearly 80,000 people voted.

    "We should be proud of this digital platform ... because we offered a different method for creating a government," Di Maio told journalists in Rome.

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    Five Star's leaders on Tuesday launched an appeal for members to support the coalition, which is being thrashed out after far-right leader Matteo Salvini pulled the plug on the previous government.

    "This is a delicate moment for the country," Five Star said of what Italian media dubbed "Rousseau roulette".

    "For us, a mandate from citizens is a serious matter. It lasts five years as laid out in the constitution, so that a government programme can be carried out," said the Five Star blog.

    The Five Star joined an ill-fated coalition with Salvini's League 18 months ago, but anti-migrant Salvini hoped for new elections that would make him premier when he tried to bring down the government last month.

    Instead, Five Star is forming a new administration with its former foes from the PD. Conte will present the new government programme to President Sergio Mattarella possibly by Wednesday.

    Once Mattarella agrees to Conte's cabinet, the prime minister will have to win confidence votes in both houses of Parliament before the government can officially start work.

    As voting got under way earlier in the day, Five Star and PD unveiled a shared, 26-point policy programme for their mooted coalition, putting an expansionary 2020 budget at the top of their agenda.

    Budget flexibility 

    The Five Star and PD said they would use the coming budget to help the stalled economy grow, but also promised they would not endanger public finances.

    Italy has the second-largest debt burden in the European Union as a proportion of economic output, and the pact called for greater flexibility from Brussels to overcome the "excessive rigidity" of existing budget rules.

    Emphasising social justice, the two parties pledged to introduce a minimum salary, avoid a VAT hike set for January, and boost spending on education, research and welfare. The programme also called for a web tax on multinationals and the creation of a public bank to help boost development in the poorer south.

    Five Star and PD committed to re-writing Italy's conflict of interest laws, a move that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has always sought to head off, fearing it could negatively affect on his Mediaset media empire.

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    The two parties also promised a "revision" of Italy's motorway concessions. The vague wording left open the hope for Italy's Atlantia that Five Star would not press ahead with its demand that it lose its lucrative toll road concession in the wake of last year's deadly bridge collapse in Genoa.

    Having agreed on the outlines of a coalition pact, the two sides still have to decide on ministers, with uncertainty surrounding the role of Five Star leader Di Maio.

    He served as deputy prime minister, industry minister and labour minister in the previous administration, but looks unlikely to keep any of those portfolios in the new cabinet.

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    SOURCE: News agencies