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Opposition agrees to back Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte in bid to foil nationalists

Matteo Salvini has withdrawn his League party from the government in the belief he could win a general election if one is called.

Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte (Massimo Percossi/AP)
Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte (Massimo Percossi/AP)

By Frances D'Emilio and Giada Zampano, Associated Press

Italy’s populist Five-Star Movement has formally asked the nation’s president to give caretaker premier Giuseppe Conte the mandate to try to form a new coalition government in a bid to forestall an election that could put right-wing nationalist Matteo Salvini in power.

Movement leader Luigi Di Maio said he informed President Sergio Mattarella that the Five-Stars had reached an agreement on a potential coalition with the opposition Democratic Party, an arch-rival.

Many analysts have said a government made up of such bitter political foes was not likely to last long, in all probability only delaying the election Mr Salvini wants to snag the premiership for himself.

Mr Conte resigned a week ago after Mr Salvini’s League party, the Five-Stars’ previous governing partner, bolted from their long-squabbling coalition.

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The League party leader Matteo Salvini (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Mr Di Maio said he told the president the Movement’s deal with the Democrats called for “Conte to again be premier and try to form a new government”.

Referring to a tweet on Tuesday by US President Donald Trump praising Mr Conte, Mr Di Maio said: “Trump’s endorsement yesterday shows that we’re on the right path.”

Mr Mattarella must decide if an unnatural alliance between the anti-establishment Five-Stars and the centre-left Democrats can produce a viable majority in the Italian Parliament, where Mr Conte would have to win a vote of confidence in both chambers to again be premier.

Mr Di Maio brushed off sceptics who have questioned how the Five-Star Movement could agree to partner with a right-wing party last year and one on the left now.

The Movement is “post-ideological”, Mr Di Maio said. “There no longer exist arrangements on the left and the right but only solutions.”

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Secretary of the Italian Democratic Party (PD), Nicola Zingaretti (Fabio Frustaci/AP)

If Mr Mattarella is not convinced Mr Conte can lead a productive government with staying power, he can call a autumn election.

The presidential palace said Mr Conte has been asked to come speak with Mr Mattarella on Thursday morning.

Mr Salvini scorned the prospect of a Democratic-Five-Star coalition, saying it would not hold up because “the only glue is hatred of the League”.

Echoing what many analysts have said, Mr Salvini predicted a short life for any government Mr Conte manages to cobble together.

He predicted that a national election would come “in six months, a year” and result in the League’s triumph.

Earlier Wednesday, the leader of the Democratic Party described acquiescing to Five-Star Movement demands for another Conte premiership as being in Italy’s best interests to keep the League out of the government.

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Leader of Five-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, centre, talks to journalists (Alessandro Di Meo/AP)

Party leader Nicola Zingaretti told reporters that he informed the president that because the Five-Stars were the biggest party in Parliament, the Democrats would back the movement’s choice for premier.

“We love Italy and we believe that it’s worthwhile to try this new experience,” Mr Zingaretti said.

“In complicated times like those of today, to avoid the responsibility of having the courage to try is something we cannot and do not want to allow.”

In an apparent reference to Mr Salvini, who as interior minister cracked down on immigration and along with other League leaders accused migrants of fuelling crime, Mr Zingaretti added: “We intend to put an end to the season of hate, rancour and fear.”

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Leader of the Five-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, talks to journalists (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Mr Zingaretti had originally insisted that the wisest course is to put the choice for the next government in the hands of voters.

But a powerful party faction led by former premier Matteo Renzi has lobbied vigorously for a coalition deal with the Five-Stars.

Little has been revealed on how the pro-European Union Democrats would govern in a coalition with the Five-Stars, who resent EU influence on national policies.

The Democrats sharply criticised the anti-migrant line of Mr Conte’s government championed by Mr Salvini.

Mr Conte is a lawyer who, while officially non-partisan, has been openly sympathetic with the Five-Stars.

The Movement championed him to head Italy’s first all-populist government, in coalition with another unnatural ally, Mr Salvini’s League, in June 2018.

PA

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