January 31, 2018 / 7:02 PM / 20 days ago

Exclusive - 5-Star leader says could back broad Italy government: source

ROME (Reuters) - The leader of Italy’s 5-Star Movement told international investors on Wednesday he would be willing to govern with mainstream rivals if a March 4 election produces no clear winner, a source told Reuters.

Luigi Di Maio met representatives of some of the world’s largest investors and hedge funds at a private club in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge district, to explain 5-Star’s policies and the political prospects after the election.

“Di Maio said repeatedly that if he does not have enough seats to govern alone, he saw the likelihood of a government backed by all the main parties, including 5-Star,” said the source, who was in the room during the day’s meetings.

Di Maio later denied he had said he was willing to make post-election alliances with other parties, but said he would be willing to negotiate with them on policies.

“I will make a public appeal to all the political parties, asking them to agree on policies and on our government team, without any type of alliances,” he posted on Facebook.

Di Maio has gradually shifted the anti-establishment party away from its former refusal to govern with other parties, but has never said publicly he would be willing to collaborate with centre-right and centre-left opponents.

His reported comments in London might allay fears in the financial markets of possible political paralysis after the vote.

The ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia are the fiercest adversaries of 5-Star, which is the most popular single party, according to opinion polls.

“He (Di Maio) said if the election throws up political stalemate he envisaged a 4-way ruling majority made up of 5-Star, the PD, Forza Italia and the Northern League,” said the source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

FILE PHOTO - Italian President Sergio Mattarella visits the tomb of Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes during the official welcoming ceremony at Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

PUBLIC APPEAL

A centre-right alliance of Forza Italia, the League and the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy is seen winning most seats at the election but probably falling short of a majority.

5-Star currently has around 28 percent of voters’ support, which would not give it nearly enough seats to govern alone.

President Sergio Mattarella is the supreme arbiter of Italian politics and is likely to play a key role in brokering any coalition accord if the election produces a hung parliament.

Di Maio has said that if Mattarella asks him to try to form a government, he will make a public appeal for other parties to back his party’s programme.

There has been much media speculation that, in this case, the anti-immigration Northern League might break its alliance with Berlusconi to hook up with 5-Star in a coalition likely to be viewed with suspicion by Italy’s EU partners.

Di Maio was accompanied in London by Lorenzo Fioramonti, an economics professor at Pretoria University in South Africa, who will be a 5-Star candidate at the election.

Investors also asked Di Maio about 5-Star’s fiscal policies, and he assured them he would not take unilateral decisions to push up the budget deficit but planned to negotiate with the European Commission and Italy’s partners, the source said.

The closed-door meetings were organised by Policy Sonar, a small, Rome-based political risk consultancy, and involved investors and hedge funds which manage more than $2 trillion (£1.41 trillion).

The meetings, which ran from 7.30 a.m. until mid-afternoon, included one-on-one sessions with individual funds and a group meeting over a two-hour lunch, the source said.

“I think he made the right noises and made the right moves, and at the end of the meetings several investors told him he should come more often,” the source said.

Reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Crispian Balmer

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