After President Sergio Mattarella gave a mandate for the second time to Giuseppe Conte to become prime minister and approved his cabinet list, a coalition of anti-establishment and right-wing populists looks set to take power.
Rival claims of victory
Italians vote on March 4th in an uncertain election marked by a far-right and populist surge and a campaign dominated by anger against immigration.
As the votes come in, the ruling centre-left Democratic Party soon admits a “clear defeat”. The final results are inconclusive and both the anti-immigrant League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement go on to claim they have won the mandate to govern.
The League heads a right-wing coalition, which includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, that takes 37 percent of the vote. Alone the party has over 17 percent. Five Star becomes the leading single party with nearly 33 percent.
League leader Matteo Salvini says he has “the right and the duty” to form a government, while Five Star chief Luigi Di Maio says his party has a “responsibility” to do the same.
Talks for a coalition
After previously ruling out an alliance with Five Star, Salvini on March 14th says he is ready to work with anyone to form a government, except the vanquished Democratic Party.
This leaves Five Star as his only realistic partner. The two parties launch talks on April 4th to break a deadlock between their leaders, who have not budged publicly on their demands to be allowed to govern.
After a third round of consultations fails to break the stalemate, President Sergio Mattarella warns on May 7th that he will form a “neutral” caretaker government or call elections in July. Five Star and the League ask for more time but on May 14th Salvini says there is still no deal on “key issues”.
In a major step forward, the two parties publish on May 18th a joint policy programme for their would-be populist coalition government.
On May 21st they propose a prime minister, little-known lawyer Giuseppe Conte, who gets working on drawing up a government.
PM gives up after days
But the president rejects Conte's pick of staunch eurosceptic Paolo Savona as economy minister and Conte quits on May 27th. “I have given up my mandate to form the government of change,” he tells reporters.
The leaders of two would-be partner parties are furious. Di Maio calls for the president to be impeached and new elections to be held.
On May 28th Mattarella appoints pro-austerity economist Carlo Cottarelli as prime minster, giving him the mandate to form a potential technocrat government.
Cottarelli, whose appointment needs parliamentary approval, announces that new elections will be held at the start of 2019 if his government wins a confidence vote.
He says that if, as is likely given Five Star and the League's combined majority, his government isn't given the green light, it will stay in place before fresh elections are held “after August”.
But on May 31st the parties launch a last-ditch bid to revive their coalition, offering a compromise candidate in place of Savona, who is proposed as European Affairs minister.
In a breakthrough during a late night meeting, Mattarella gives Conte a mandate for a second time and approves his list of cabinet ministers, paving the way for them to be voted in at parliament.
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP