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POLITICS

It’s official: Italy kicks off its search for a new government

Italy on Wednesday begins the process of trying to put together a new government, a month after the country's general election delivered a political stalemate.

It's official: Italy kicks off its search for a new government
A general view of the Italian Senate in March. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Two major forces emerged at the polls: a right-wing coalition led by the far-right, anti-migrant League party which garnered 37 percent of the vote, and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), the biggest single party with just under 33 percent.

Each group has repeatedly spoken of its right to be given the chance to form a government and both have stuck to that line despite coming to an agreement last week on the nomination of the speakers of both houses of parliament. Both political groups are making hostile noises in the lead up to consultations with President Sergio Mattarella.

On Tuesday night current affairs programme Di Martedi, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio said that he would only deal with either the League or the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which leads the outgoing government and crashed to third at the election with around 23 percent, haemorrhaging seats. Any deal with Matteo Salvini's League must, Di Maio says, exclude Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the second largest party in the right-wing coalition and a fierce rival to the M5S.

“Salvini needs to choose between revolution and the restoration. Whether to leave Berlusconi and change Italy or whether to stay with him and not change anything,” said Di Maio.

Tricky task

Salvini responded on Facebook by saying that, unlike the M5S, the League “excludes any alliance with a PD rejected by the Italian public,” and reiterated that the right will discuss a partnership with Di Maio “but without being subjected to vetoes or impositions.”

In any case, both will have to make their cases to Mattarella.

Over the next two days Mattarella will meet the Chamber of Deputies and Senate speakers and political leaders for consultations over the make-up of the next government, with the biggest parties pencilled in for Thursday.

After his consultations the president will decide who, if anyone, can command enough seats to form a government or whether a fresh round of consultations is necessary.

Finding a solution this week will be a tricky task given how far anyone is from a majority in either the lower house Chamber or upper house Senate. The right needs 51 more seats in the 630-seat Chamber and 23 in the Senate — which holds 318 seats — in order to form a stable majority, while the M5S need to secure the support of 94 more in the lower house and 51 in the upper house.

The PD has refused to work with either the right or M5S despite having enough seats — 111 in the chamber and 52 in the Senate — to form a government with either.

Haggling

Interim PD leader Maurizio Martina said on Tuesday that his party won't “act as a crutch” for two groups that have such different political ideas from his own party.

PD MP and deputy speaker of the Chamber Ettore  Rosato claims the two other groups were just using the threat of an alliance with the PD to gain an upper hand in their private negotiations.

“There's been a concrete agreement for government between Di Maio and Salvini for months. Now they're just stalling,” he said on political talk show Porta a Porta on Tuesday.

Little seems likely to change on the PD's part at least until the party votes for a new leader, which Martina has said should take place this month. If an agreement between the League and the M5S is not struck and the PD sticks to its guns a new government will be extremely hard to form.

But even if Mattarella were to announce new elections there is no guarantee anything would change, unless a new electoral law were drafted. Federico Fornaro, MP for left-wing party Free and Equal and an election expert, told Wednesday's Il Fatto Quotidiano daily that Italy would remain in political limbo.

“With the current electoral system, going back to the polls would be pointless,” he said.

By Terry Daley

POLITICS

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.

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