President Sergio Mattarella gave Speaker Elisabetta Alberti Casellati a two-day "exploratory" mandate at a meeting on Wednesday morning. Casellati, a member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, is tasked with "confirming the existence of a parliamentary majority" between the Five Star Movement (M5S) on one hand and a centre-right coalition on the other.
The alliance between centrist Forza Italia, the nationalist League and far-right Brothers of Italy won the biggest share of the vote in last month's general election, with 37 percent. That isn't enough for a majority, however, and any coalition government risks crumbling without the backing of the M5S, which won nearly 33 percent just on its own.
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After the president's consultations with all parties failed to produce a deal, Casellati now faces the challenge of convincing the M5S to drop its opposition to Forza Italia and join the centre-right in a governing coalition.
However, it looks like she has a difficult task on her hands.
Following his talk with Casellati, M5S leader Di Maio said his party had reiterated that it would only form a coalition with the League, and not the centre-right as a whole. He described his party and the League as "the only forces capable of giving life to a government" and called on Salvini to make up his mind.
Di Maio has long refused to govern with Berlusconi, whom he sees as epitomizing the cronyism that the M5S was set up to challenge. However, League leader Matteo Salvini is unlikely to accept a deal without Forza Italia: his party received more votes in the election than Berlusconi's, making it the dominant player in the centre-right coalition, but in a M5S-League coalition he would be relegated to junior partner.
On Wednesday afternoon, Salvini criticized Di Maio's unwillingness to budge. "It almost seems to me that Di Maio doesn't want to govern, or has chosen the PD [Democratic Party]," he said, adding: "If everyone sticks to their positions, we'll get nowhere."
Both the League and M5S had earlier welcomed the opportunity for talks with Casellati, with the party leaders stressing the need for an end to the deadlock.
The Senate speaker will present the results of her consultations to president Sergio Mattarella on Friday.
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP