August 15, 2019 / 11:27 AM / a month ago

Italy's League risks "looking stupid" over govt crisis, says party official

ROME, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Italy’s ruling League party could end up in opposition and risks looking stupid over its bid to bring down the coalition and trigger an early election, a senior League official said.

Renewed political turmoil in the euro zone’s third largest economy threatens to derail preparations for the 2020 budget in the autumn, as Italy attempts to rein in its huge public debt, the highest in the 19-nation bloc after Greece.

The League’s far-right leader Matteo Salvini said last week its alliance with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement was no longer workable and tabled a motion of no-confidence in the government.

The 46-year-old tough-talking Salvini’s gambit appeared to be an effort to capitalise on his popularity and bring on an election that could see him crowned as prime minister.

However, 5-Star and the opposition Democratic Party (PD) have stalled any debate of the motion and many of their politicians are now openly discussing forming a coalition among themselves to sideline Salvini.

League Cabinet Undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti, Salvini’s closest aide, acknowledged in an interview in La Repubblica daily on Thursday that the party could now end up in opposition, but said it would do so “with our heads high.”

“We could have held on to our government posts and now we risk looking stupid, but we posed a political issue,” Giorgetti said, referring to the policy gridlock which had bogged down the government amid constant bickering between the two parties.

With the prospect of a 5-Star/PD government looking increasingly plausible, the League’s Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio said on Wednesday he did not rule out trying to patch things up with 5-Star.

“I would never close the door completely,” he said in a radio interview.

Salvini said in Genoa on Wednesday the League “will do whatever we can to prevent a trickster’s deal between 5-Star and the PD.”

Francesco Galietti, founder of political risk consultancy Policy Sonar, said in a note that the possibility of the government continuing with a cabinet reshuffle was “more than just plausible.”

However, many 5-Star politicians now seem more tempted by a deal with the PD. Lower house deputy Giuseppe Brescia told La Repubblica on Thursday it would be “absurd” to try to resurrect the coalition after the League had unilaterally tried to sink it.

The 5-Star Movement has been hurt by its tie-up with the League, halving its voter support since the two parties joined forces in June last year, according to opinion polls. The League has overtaken it to become Italy’s most popular party. (Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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