March 27, 2018 / 4:49 PM / 25 days ago

Italy's 5-Star lawmakers call for government deal with League

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, the largest party in parliament after this month’s election, should try to form a government with its far-right rivals the League, two of its senior politicians said on Tuesday.

Anti-establishment 5-Star Movement Luigi Di Maio gestures during a news conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome, Italy, March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentil

The election produced a hung parliament and 5-Star has said it is willing to talk to all parties in parliament to try to form a government. However, the parliamentarians told Reuters they believed the only realistic hope of a coalition was with the League.

While many obstacles lie in the way of such an alliance, if a deal were to be struck it would likely cause concern in Brussels and among investors, due to both parties’ hostility to EU rules on areas including budgets, trade and immigration.

The League has claimed the right to name the prime minister because it is the leading party in a centre-right bloc that won the most seats in parliament. Its leader, Matteo Salvini, said on Monday he was ready to talk to 5-Star about a coalition.

“Salvini is doing everything right and there are plenty of policies we can agree on,” said a prominent 5-Star senator.

Salvini will meet 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio next week in parliament, the League leader said in a television interview on Tuesday.

Both lawmakers who spoke to Reuters said they were encouraged by a change of stance from Salvini this week, who showed a willingness to consider income support for the poor, which is 5-Star’s flagship policy.

Both asked not to be named because of the delicate state of negotiations on trying to put together a ruling coalition.

They dismissed the view expressed by some commentators that 5-Star’s voters, who come mainly from the south, would be hostile to a deal with the League because its power base is in the rich north.

“Salvini has changed the League’s identity, and he was elected in a southern seat himself,” one said. “In any case, we are strongest in the south and we would guarantee the right policies for the south,” the parliamentarian added.

“What our voters want most is that we should be in government,” said the other. Both lawmakers were elected in the south.

5-Star won 33 percent of the vote in the election, compared with 17 percent for the League and 37 percent for the centre-right bloc as a whole, which includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) and the right-wing Brothers of Italy.

Northern League leader and senator Matteo Salvini gestures at the Senate during the first session since the March 4 national election in Rome, Italy March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

MUTUAL PRAISE

The parties voted together on Saturday to elect the speakers of the two houses of parliament, and Salvini and Di Maio then praised each other for sticking to their word and proving their trustworthiness.

Despite this, there are still some major sticking points in the way of them hooking up, not least of which is Berlusconi’s presence in the centre-right coalition.

5-Star, which bases its appeal on a pledge to clean up politics, is fiercely hostile to the four-times prime minister, who has a conviction for tax fraud and is on trial in another case for allegedly bribing witnesses.

“I would not find it acceptable for us to have a role in any government which includes Forza Italia,” one of the lawmakers said. Salvini has vowed not to abandon his allies, saying such a shift would betray voters who backed the bloc at the ballot box.

Salvini repeated on Tuesday that he had no plans to abandon his coalition partners to form a government with 5-Star without them.

Another obstacle is who should become prime minister.

Salvini said on Monday he was ready to drop his claim if necessary, but he had previously said the candidate should in any case come from the centre right, and it is far from clear that he would be willing to accept Di Maio.

5-Star appears less flexible.

“It’s the will of the people,” Di Maio said on the party’s blog about him being named prime minister, underscoring the fact that 5-Star won nearly double the votes as the League.

“Di Maio cannot say or me or nothing,” Salvini said during the recording of a Porta a Porta (Door to Door) talk show on RAI state television.

Reporting by Gavin Jones, additional reporting by Alberto Sisto; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams

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