Italy's Populist League Gives Public a Say on Coalition Program

(Bloomberg) -- Italians are having a say on the populist coalition’s policy program this weekend in an improvised ballot organized by the anti-immigration League, potentially moving the country closer to a government.

Italy's Populist League Gives Public a Say on Coalition Program

Party leader Matteo Salvini, 45, is giving Italians a say on the draft deal Saturday and Sunday, though his staff have boiled the 58-page agenda down to just one page and 10 key areas, omitting his would-be partner’s top policy plank: a minimum income for poorer citizens.

Read more about the populist policy program here

The key action will be behind the scenes, as Salvini and Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, 31, try to agree on a candidate to lead their administration before a rendezvous with President Sergio Mattarella on Monday. At a party event in the northern town of Ivrea on Saturday, Di Maio voiced confidence that the ballot will back the coalition deal and “we’ll resolve the premier issue as well.”

“That is the real issue,” Wolfango Piccoli, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said earlier. “If there is no deal on the team, the agreement will come down.”

The populist duo are due to report to the president after a week of turmoil in Italian bonds and stocks triggered by reports about the coalition’s spending plans and rejection of European Union budget rules. The 10-year yield spread over German bonds ended Friday at 165 basis points, after widening by more than 30 basis points over the week. That’s the most since October.

Prime Minister Wanted

Neither Salvini nor Di Maio has said publicly who should be premier, though the League leader insists it shouldn’t be either of them.

Giuseppe Conte, a law professor at Florence University, is the most likely candidate for the prime minister’s post, while Salvatore Rossi, the Bank of Italy’s director general, could be picked as finance minister, Il Messaggero newspaper reported Saturday, without saying how it got the information.

While Five Star emerged as the biggest single party in the general election on March 4, the League was part of a center-right alliance that won the most seats overall. Both leaders claimed the right to head the next government, and that dispute has dogged their efforts to form a coalition ever since.

Five Star supporters voted on the coalition pact in an online ballot organized by the party Friday. More than 94 percent were in favor.

After Salvini met the League leadership in Milan on Friday, the League said it would go further and open up its consultation to everyone. The ballots are being tallied by the party.

The League’s description of the program includes scrapping a pension reform that raised the retirement age, blocking immigrants arriving on Italy’s coasts and a flat tax for families and companies. There’s no mention of a “citizen’s income” for the poor at 780 euros ($920) a month, a flagship Five Star promise that the League denounced as a handout during the election campaign.

“I don’t think these consultations are a real democratic instrument,” said Edoardo Bressanelli, senior lecturer in European politics at King’s College in London. “It is clear what the direction of the leadership is and what the choices are.”

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