Italian president’s post-election headache
The Italian president now has a job akin to herding cats: getting the country’s political parties to try and form a government. That’s hard enough to do in Italy at the best of times, but even trickier with insurgents as the new major political forces.
Mattarella on Wednesday kickstarted a two-day round of formal consultations with the main parties, in a first effort to unlock the political impasse in the wake of last month’s election, which resulted in a hung parliament.
So it’s all eyes on the president, who has the power to choose a party leader and ask them to form a government.
This process is expected to take weeks, if not months, or fail completely. That’s at least in part because the election’s two big winners were the anti-establishment 5Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio, and the far-right League of Matteo Salvini, who both claim they should get to form a government.
The right-leaning alliance led by Salvini won a total of 37 percent of the vote, with the League outperforming its partner, former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. The 5Stars emerged as the largest single party with 32 percent. Both fell short of a majority, leaving the incumbent center-left Democratic Party (PD) — which won just 19 percent — in the role of reluctant kingmaker but seemingly determined to remain on the opposition benches.
Di Maio made his conditions clear on the eve of the consultations with Mattarella, who will meet the leaders of largest parties on Thursday.
“We are open to speak to either the PD or the League,” Di Maio said in a TV interview on Tuesday evening, adding that any potential alliance with Salvini would exclude Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. The 81-year-old media mogul, who is banned from public office after a conviction for tax fraud, embodies everything about the establishment that the 5Stars say they want to overthrow.
“Salvini has to decide whether he wants to drop Berlusconi and start changing Italy or stick with Berlusconi and change nothing,” Di Maio said.
Salvini hit back straightaway, suggesting he wants to keep his alliance united. “The coalition that won the most votes is the center-right and this is our starting point,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “We will have dialogue with the 5Stars, but reject vetoes or commands.”
According to Di Maio’s proposal, potential coalition partners should draw up a common platform and sign a “contract” with a clear list of policies, similar to the one in Germany between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats.
“The document could be made of just a few points, on which the coalition partners agree. That would obviously include our main proposals, such as a universal income for the unemployed, but the other points will be negotiated,” said 5Star lawmaker Stefano Vignaroli.
But the 5Stars and the League seem very unlikely bedfellows.
As part of its electoral platform, the League promised a “fiscal revolution,” including a flat tax of 15 percent, which — if paired with the 5Stars’ universal income plan — would likely be financially ruinous for a country that already has the second highest debt level in the eurozone.
“The flat tax remains our absolute priority,” said Armando Siri, a member of the upper house of parliament for the League and one of the authors of the fiscal plan. “But it’s clear that if we want to give this country a government, every party should be ready to take a step back.”
Mattarella will almost certainly need at least a second round of consultations to push rival political forces to find common ground. If agreement is not reached, he may decide to form a cross-party government backed by the main parties, that would lead to a new election, likely next year.
“Mattarella will not only listen, but also speak during these consultations, asking the parties to reach substantial and painful compromises,” said Franco Pavoncello, politics professor at Rome’s John Cabot University. “That will take time. But in the end, even the 5Stars will have to lose their virginity and come to terms with reality.”