Berlusconi Said to Be Open to Center-Right Pact With Five Star

(Bloomberg) -- Silvio Berlusconi is open to his party joining a possible coalition government formed by Italy’s center-right alliance and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement -- but he wants its leader Luigi Di Maio to stop demanding the premiership.

Berlusconi believes Di Maio should drop his claim on the prime minister’s job, and focus on drawing up a common program, according to a senior lawmaker from the ex-premier’s Forza Italia party who asked not to be named discussing strategy. Berlusconi would consider ministers from Forza Italia participating in a government of the center-right and Five Star, the lawmaker added.

More than three weeks after Italy’s inconclusive election left no one party in the driving seat, Five Star and the League are jockeying for position with the more established parties as they try to forge a coalition.

Berlusconi could play kingmaker -- or deal-breaker -- in attempts by Matteo Salvini of the anti-migrant League, his senior alliance partner, to forge an accord with Di Maio. Salvini has insisted that he would make a pact with Di Maio only if his allies agree.

Softening Populists

Investors have been betting that establishment parties could soften populist agendas of Five Star and the League, amid concerns that spending policies and challenges to European Union budget rules could weigh on the feeble recovery and undermine the euro area. Five Star has long denounced Berlusconi, who is banned from holding public office until next year because of a 2013 tax-fraud conviction, as a symbol of a corrupt ruling class.

Berlusconi insists that Di Maio change his attitude towards him, the official said, describing Di Maio’s refusal to meet the media mogul earlier this month as unacceptable.

Forza Italia and Five Star are not in contact, the official said -- in sharp contrast with Salvini’s League, which has been negotiating with Five Star. Berlusconi has been pushing for an accord with the center-left Democratic Party of premier Paolo Gentiloni, which suffered its worst electoral defeat and has pledged to go into opposition.

Salvini sided with Berlusconi on the premiership claim and defended his ally on Tuesday. “If Di Maio says ‘either me as premier or nothing,’ it’s not the right way to get started,” Salvini told RAI television. He added that Di Maio couldn’t demand that Forza Italia be excluded as a precondition for talks.

‘Popular Will’

Di Maio is sticking to his guns on the premiership. “The premier must be the expression of the popular will,” he wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “More than 32 percent of Italians voted for Five Star and the undersigned as premier.” Di Maio added that Five Star would meet all political forces before President Sergio Mattarella starts consulting party leaders.

Mattarella, who is due to begin his talks on April 3, could need two or three rounds of meetings to determine whether a parliamentary majority can be forged. The head of state, who appoints a premier, is expected to insist that anyone claiming the post should demonstrate that he or she does have a majority, and an agreed government program.

Salvini and Di Maio will meet some time next week -- “on neutral ground,” Salvini said.

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