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POLITICS

Italy begins second attempt to form government

Far-right and anti-establishment forces in Italy resumed battle on Thursday over who can lead a new government, as a second round of talks began with a row over Silvio Berlusconi leaving little room for manoeuvre after last month's inconclusive election.

Italy begins second attempt to form government
Guards outside the room in the presidential palace where Italy's latest government talks are taking place. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Five Star Movement (M5S) leader Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, head of the nationalist League party, will meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella for consultations at the presidential palace on Thursday afternoon.

The talks began in the morning in Rome with the smallest groups in the Italian parliament.

READ ALSO: What to expect from Italy's government talks

The M5S is Italy's largest single party after picking up just under 33 percent of the vote in the March 4th election.

Salvini's right-wing coalition, which includes Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, is the largest group with 37 percent.

Both Di Maio and Salvini have said that they are ready to govern with one another but Di Maio is demanding that Salvini break his alliance with media magnate Berlusconi, something the 45-year-old League leader has so far refused to do.

Salvini will present a united right-wing front on Thursday, going to meet Mattarella with Berlusconi and his other coalition partner Giorgia Meloni – leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party – after the three went separately to the first round of talks last week.

READ ALSO: Who is Italian President Sergio Mattarella? The man guiding Italy through rocky government talks

Who is Italian President Sergio Mattarella? The man guiding Italy through rocky government talks
Sergio Mattarella pictured during government consultations in early April. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Salvini needs to keep his coalition intact for regional elections on April 29th in northeastern Friuli-Venezia Giulia where the League is aiming for victory. In order to win, it has to maintain its alliance with Forza Italia.

On Wednesday Alessandro Di Battista, an important figure within the M5S, said Berlusconi represented everything that was wrong with Italy.

“They are the words of the many people who believe that Berlusconi belongs to the political past,” Di Maio said on current affairs programme Porta a Porta.

However, an agreement between Di Maio and Salvini is currently the best hope for a working parliamentary majority.

The Democratic Party (PD), the big loser of the election after its centre-left coalition gained just under 23 percent of the vote, has been courted by the M5S. The League has refused categorically to work with the PD.

READ ALSO: 400 women in Italy's Democratic Party protest 'boys' club' culture

The PD is deeply divided between those who prefer to remain in opposition rather than prop up a Di Maio government – a faction led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi – and those who want dialogue to stop the far-right League gaining power.

The issue may not be decided until April 21st, when the PD will choose a new leader after Renzi's post-election resignation.

The M5S chief whip in the Chamber Giulia Grillo told Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper on Thursday that “up to now the PD has not wanted any dialogue”.

On Friday Mattarella will meet the speakers of both houses of the Italian parliament and his predecessor Giorgio Napolitano.

Mattarella could give one of the trio an exploratory mandate to try to move the discussions forward, or plan a third round of consultations.

READ ALSO:

By Terry Daley

ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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