Italy's Salvini Says He Has Less Than Zero Interest in Di Maio

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s populist leaders Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio clashed in a virulent quarrel over how to form the next government, weakening the prospect of the two sharing power.

“Di Maio, right now, interests me less than zero,” Salvini, who heads the center-right alliance and the euroskeptic League party, said according to newswire Ansa. He was responding to a tweet by Di Maio, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, saying there is “a zero percent chance that Five Star will go into government with Berlusconi and with the center-right ragbag.”

Italy's Salvini Says He Has Less Than Zero Interest in Di Maio

Earlier, Salvini had tweeted an appeal for “humility, coherence, listening to people, and common sense” and had said there was a “51 percent possibility of the center-right forming a government with Five Star.”

The two populist leaders are clashing over Di Maio’s insistence that he should be premier, and his refusal to envisage any role for former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, which is part of Salvini’s center-right coalition. Salvini has said he won’t form any alliance unless his coalition partners agree. While Five Star is the biggest single party to emerge from March 4 elections, the center-right coalition won the most votes as a whole, though neither won a majority.

President Sergio Mattarella, whose task it is to appoint a new premier, is due to hold a second round of talks with party leaders later this week after a first round failed to make any progress in the search for a new government. The meetings will take place on Thursday and Friday, or alternatively on Friday and Saturday, according to a senior state official who declined to be named discussing confidential plans.

Italy's Salvini Says He Has Less Than Zero Interest in Di Maio

Chances of a pact between the League and Five Star shrank on Sunday after Salvini, Berlusconi and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy party pledged to meet Mattarella together, and request a premier from the center-right.

Di Maio is seeking a deal with the League or with the center-left Democratic Party, but the latter has so far chosen to go into opposition after its worst-ever electoral defeat. The Democrats face a leadership contest as early as April 21, with several lawmakers keen to talk to Five Star.

Five Star sees Berlusconi, who is banned from holding public office until next year after a 2013 tax-fraud conviction, as a symbol of the corrupt political class it is fighting to overthrow.

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