April 23, 2018 / 7:32 AM / 4 months ago

Italy president appoints new mediator to sound out chances of 5-Star/PD government

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s president on Monday asked the head of the lower house of parliament to see whether the 5-Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party (PD) could form a coalition government but initial reaction pointed to a mission impossible.

FILE PHOTO - Italian President Sergio Mattarella meets new elected Chamber of Deputies president Roberto Fico at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, Italy March 24, 2018. Italian Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

President Sergio Mattarella, who is struggling to end seven weeks of political deadlock following inconclusive elections last month, asked the lower house speaker Roberto Fico to report back to him on Thursday with his findings.

“I will start work immediately,” said Fico, a 5-Star member, who faces fierce misgivings within the two camps about any possible tie-up.

PD president Matteo Orfini quickly dampened any hope of success.

“There are no conditions for a political accord between the PD and 5-Star. We’ve always said it, and we are repeating it,” Orfini said.

Acting PD Secretary Maurizio Martina said the only way the PD would negotiate with 5-Star would be if the latter stopped talking to the far-right League, the largest member of the right-wing bloc.

Senate leader Elisabetta Casellati last week failed to broker a deal between 5-Star and the alliance of rightist parties led by the League after receiving a similar, highly focussed mandate from the president, whose options are rapidly diminishing.

The bloc of conservative parties, including the League, won the most seats at the March 4 vote, while the 5-Star emerged as the largest single party. Both fell well short of a parliamentary majority.

5-Star has said it is willing to work with the League, but not its allies, who include former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The League has so far rejected this demand, but continues to repeat its hope for a coalition deal.

The PD, which had governed Italy since 2013, lost heavily last month as voters snubbed it over the slow pace of economic recovery and over fears of rising immigrant numbers from Africa.

It has said repeatedly that it wants to move into opposition, but the party is divided and some of its leaders have said it should be open-minded about its old foe 5-Star.

BOOST FOR CENTRE RIGHT

Mattarella announced his latest effort to end the deadlock the day after the centre-right won local elections in the tiny southern region of Molise, giving the bloc a boost as jostling continues in Rome over coalition building.

“An important national signal has emerged from Molise. A united centre-right has the ability to win the backing of Italians to rule both the regions and the country,” Berlusconi said in a statement on Monday.

The centre-right candidate backed by nine parties won 43 percent of the vote in Molise, ahead of the candidate for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, with 38 percent.

The result was a setback for 5-Star, which had hoped to gain control of its first regional government after emerging as the largest party at the national ballot.

In Molise it was again by far the biggest party, with no other group reaching 10 percent, but it fell back markedly from the 44 percent it took in the same region in March.

If all efforts to break the Rome stalemate fail, Mattarella could try to put together a government of technocrats with a limited mandate, including electoral reform, to prepare for early elections in the spring of 2019.

Failing that, his last option would be to call elections in the autumn of this year.

Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean and Philip Pullella

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