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Italy’s efforts to form a government have been delayed (again)

Italy's centre-left Democratic Party on Thursday delayed a decision on forming a government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) to next week, prolonging political uncertainty almost two months after inconclusive elections.

Italy's efforts to form a government have been delayed (again)
Democratic Party leader Maurizio Martina speaking to press earlier this week. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Maurizio Martina, interim leader of the PD, said although “important progress had been made” during the latest round of consultations, he could not “hide the difficulties” which lay ahead.

“We are different political forces with very different points of view,” he said of a potential partnership with the M5S, adding that a decision was postponed until May 3rd.

Italy has been gripped by a political stalemate since the March 4th election failed to produce a clear winner.

A first round of consultations between M5S leader Luigi Di Maio and the far-right League's Matteo Salvini collapsed last week after both refused to budge over Salvini's coalition partner, former premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Di Maio had demanded that Salvini dump the 81-year-old media magnate, who the M5S regards as the symbol of political corruption, but Salvini insisted he would not break up a coalition that came first in the elections with a combined 37 percent. The M5S is Italy's largest single party with 33 percent.

The political impasse led Di Maio to slam the door on any future accord with the League and turn towards the centre-left Democratic Party in a fresh round of negotiations.

The PD, in power since 2013, only got 23 percent of the vote as part of a left-wing coalition. It had until now, insisted it would remain in opposition, refusing to be a “crutch” for a M5S administration.

But this week Martina said his party was willing to come to the table and negotiate.

“If we have got to this point, it is because the others have failed,” he said. “We are doing this work with the spirit of duty that we have always guaranteed the country.”

Any accord between the two parties is likely to ruffle feathers given that the M5S targeted the PD with ferocious criticism when it governed Italy. Their majority would also only be razor thin and the significant policy differences between the two would make forming a government no easy feat.

After the round of talks concluded, the speaker of the lower house Roberto Fico said: “Talks between M5S and the PD have been launched and in the coming days there will be discussions.”

M5S leader Di Maio said he is ready to sign an “ambitious government agreement” with the PD. He also again insisted that should this attempt to form a government fail, the country should return to the polls.

“If we vote again, I'm convinced that the Five Star Movement will emerge even stronger,” Di Maio said.

READ ALSO: Ten key things to know about the Italian political system

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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