Italy Picks New Mediator in Search for Government Majority

(Bloomberg) -- Italian President Sergio Mattarella asked lower house Speaker Roberto Fico to find out whether the anti-establishment Five Star Movement could govern with the center-left Democratic Party, in the latest attempt to break a seven-week impasse.

The head of state appointed 43-year-old Fico, from Five Star, to hold talks on his behalf and report back to him by Thursday. Senate Speaker Elisabetta Casellati last week failed to broker a deal between Five Star and the center-right alliance after a similar mandate from Mattarella.

“I’ll start work immediately, and for me a fundamental point is that we should start from issues and a program in the country’s interests,” Fico told reporters after being appointed by Mattarella.

The 76-year-old president is trying to forge a consensus on who should lead the next Italian government after the March 4 election left the legislature divided between three main blocs. With the voters angered by years of economic malaise and a wave of immigration from North Africa, none of the party leaders have yet indicated they are ready to make the compromises required to strike a deal.

Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-migrant League and the broader center-right movement, said his chances have been boosted by victory in Sunday’s regional elections in Molise, a mountainous region of 300,000 southeast of Rome. A center-right pact including the League and a host of small local parties beat Five Star by 44 percent to 39 percent, despite the fact that Five Star won the most support in last month’s general election.

“If everyone steps down from their pedestals and talks about issues and not names, there’s no problem,” Salvini said. “The Molise vote demonstrates that.” Salvini spoke at a rally in northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia, where another regional election is due April 29.

Party Maneuvers

Five Star is the biggest single party in parliament while the center-right has most seats overall. Neither has a majority. Salvini wants Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio to drop his insistence on being prime minister and consider a deal including former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Di Maio has offered to govern with the League or with the Democratic Party, known as the PD.

Five Star posted on its blog what Di Maio called “the first draft of the government contract” it wants to discuss with the League and with the Democrats. Di Maio said “the distance with the League and the PD on many decisive issues remains plain.”

The draft does not directly mention a contentious citizen’s income pledge, referring instead to “strengthening current systems of income support.” It stresses the “need to take account of risks of financial instability,” says the government will “maintain commitments already made at European level” and demands “respect for equality” between European Union members.

Avoiding Repeat Election

The PD’s Ettore Rosato, deputy-speaker of the lower house, said Monday it is “almost impossible” to reach an agreement on policies with Five Star, in remarks cited by Ansa newswire. Earlier, Rosato said the party would talk to Five Star about its program only if attempts to forge a Five Star-League government failed.

“They must decide whether this engagement leads to marriage or not,” Rosato told RAI radio.

Meanwhile, President Mattarella is keen to avoid elections this year and could at some stage seek to engineer a government of national unity, perhaps urging all parties to support a figure from outside of politics.

Such an administration would likely be tasked with pushing the 2019 budget through parliament in the fall, and changing the electoral law with a possible majority bonus for the leading party or alliance. It may however prove short-lived, with new elections seen early next year.

Potential premiers of a government of national unity floated by the Italian media include Carlo Cottarelli, a former executive director at the International Monetary Fund, Alessandro Pajno, head of the Council of State -- Italy’s highest administrative court -- and ex-ministers Sabino Cassese, Giovanni Maria Flick and Paola Severino.

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