May 3, 2018 / 10:39 AM / 2 years ago

Italy's president calls new govt consultations on May 7

ROME (Reuters) - President Sergio Mattarella has called for a fresh round of consultations with party leaders on May 7 to try to end nine weeks of increasingly fractious political deadlock following inconclusive March elections.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella speaks to the media during the second day of consultations at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Mattarella has already held two rounds of talks which failed to end the stalemate while two further efforts at mediation carried out by parliamentary speakers also hit a brick wall.

“After two months, the initial positions of the parties have not changed. No prospect has emerged for a government,” the head of state’s office said in a statement, adding that the president wanted to hear if party leaders had any other ideas.

Mattarella’s options are rapidly dwindling and the possibility of a return to the polls sometime between the coming autumn and next spring looks increasingly likely.

A national election on March 4 saw a centre-right alliance led by the anti-immigrant League winning the most seats and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement emerging as the biggest single party. The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) came third.

A matrix of criss-crossing vetoes has so far prevented the parties from agreeing to a coalition deal, with friction and frustration growing by the day.

Underscoring the sense of paralysis, the PD was due to decide later on Thursday whether to open formal negotiations with 5-Star. However, Mattarella did not wait for their decision before announcing Monday’s meetings - an acknowledgement that the deeply divided party will be unable to agree to such a deal.

Having come to the same conclusion, the leader of the 5-Star this week called for an immediate revote in June, but a source in the president’s office told Reuters on Wednesday that the head of state would reject this demand.

Instead, Mattarella wants to put together a stopgap government to draw up a 2019 budget that has to be approved by the end of December.

If party leaders fail to sign up to such an administration, which would almost certainly be led by a non-political figure, then a new vote would be held in the autumn - probably October.

The last four Italian prime ministers took office thanks to backroom deals rather than ballot-box victories and repeated efforts to reform the electoral law that would allow for the swift formation of a government have failed to come up with a winning formula.

While 5-Star is pushing for an immediate re-vote, other parties have suggested working together to devise a new election system. However, winning wide backing for such a pact in the current political climate looks highly unlikely.

While Italy’s day-to-day administration is being overseen by caretaker prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, latest economic forecasts from the European Commission have underlined the need for a fully empowered government ready to undertake reform.

The forecasts showed that the Italian economy was set to grow 1.5 percent this year and just 1.2 percent next — the lowest amongst the European Union’s 27 member states.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Philip Pullella and Richard Balmforth

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