Italian parties seek parliamentary deal; government talks far away

The recent election in Italy did not produce a conclusive result. (Reuters pic)

ROME: Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and right-wing parties are looking to wrap up a deal on who should be appointed as speakers for the new parliament, which opens on Friday after this month’s inconclusive elections.

However, the much more arduous task of creating a possible coalition government has yet to begin, with political sources saying serious negotiations might have to wait until after regional elections slated for the end of April.

Decisions on who should preside over the upper and lower houses are often seen as precursors to eventual government accords, but the March 4 election threw up such a confused parliament that no one is taking any bets on future pacts.

“I don’t think it is possible to predict an outcome (for the government) and anyone who says they have the solution and they know how this story is going to end is lying,” said Giovanni Orsina, professor of history at Luiss University in Rome.

A conservative alliance, including the far-right Northern League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, emerged as the largest single bloc in the election, while 5-Star became the largest party in Italy.

Initial contacts between these two winning groups have resulted in an unwritten deal that should see a 5-Star politician elected as speaker of the lower house, while a right-wing politician will claim the presidency of the upper house.

If all goes according to plan, the ballots in the two chambers could be wrapped up by the start of next week, opening the way for President Sergio Mattarella to start formal consultations on creating a new government.

The speaker deal could yet fall apart, however, with the conservative bloc putting forward Forza Italia veteran Paolo Romani, who has a conviction for embezzlement, as its candidate for the Senate presidency.

The 5-Star, whose slogan is ‘Honesty’, has baulked at his nomination. “The centre-right is continuing to propose Romani, who we cannot vote for,” 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook, calling on parties to discuss the issue.

Unless a compromise is found quickly, the voting process in parliament could drag on for days, delaying the launch of the official coalition discussions.

Even if consultations with Mattarella start promptly, no one is expecting a swift breakthrough, with attention shifting to local elections in the regions of Fruili-Venezia Giulia and Molise, currently run by the center-left Democratic Party (PD).

The PD has governed Italy since 2013 but lost badly in the national election, punished by voters for the slow pace of economic recovery. It looks highly likely to lose the regional votes too, with 5-Star and the right fighting for the spoils.

“Any government deal will involve compromises and come at a big political cost. Who will want to pay that cost before the regional elections?” said a senior politician in the League, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The three main coalition options would see the PD supporting either 5-Star or the right, or the 5-Star and right forming an alliance. However, there is no natural fit between the three blocs and years of fierce mutual animosity to overcome.

If no compromise deal is found, the president could try to cobble together a government of technocrats with a limited mandate or else order new elections in the autumn. For now, Italy’s markets show little concern over the uncertainty.

“The present situation … is relatively stable, so if there are no major external shocks I don’t think the markets should worry at all in the coming months,” Orsina said.