Italy political crisis: Calls for summer election as Italians remain without a government

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Italy political crisis: Calls for summer election as Italians remain without a government
Photo: Paolo Giandotto/AFP/Italian Presidency press office

Italy's caretaker prime minister Carlo Cottarelli met President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday without presenting his cabinet, amid speculation that populists could resume their bid to form a coalition and calls for new elections as early as July.


Former IMF director Cottarelli had promised to present a technocratic cabinet line-up as soon as possible after efforts to form a political government, almost three months on from inconclusive elections, failed. However, it is no longer clear if he will present his proposed ministers, with the line-up unlikely to pass a vote of confidence from the Italian parliament.

Earlier the same day the leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party that along with the right-wing populist League had been poised to take power, also visited the presidential palace, sparking speculation that his bid to form a coalition government could resume.

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio later mooted the possibility of switching the allies' disputed nominee for finance minister to a different portfolio, the solution usually agreed upon when there have been objections to other nominees in the past. Yet his League counterpart, Matteo Salvini, said he would insist upon "the same team".

While Cottarelli worked to form a cabinet of technocrats, "new possibilities emerged for the creation of a political government," sources told Ansa news agency. "Faced with the tension on the markets, this circumstance induced him – in agreement with the president – to await eventual developments."

The president's office confirmed in a statement that no announcements would be made on Wednesday. 

In the meantime, support is growing on all sides of the political spectrum for a summer election while the uncertainty has raised fears for the eurozone's stability. The Democratic Party, League and Five Star Movement have all called for a vote "as soon as possible".

How did we get here?

The proposed populist government collapsed after Mattarella vetoed the nomination of a finance minister who was backed by the majority of lawmakers. Mattarella said that installing openly eurosceptic Paolo Savona as economy minister would go against the joint promise from the M5S and League to simply "change Europe for the better from an Italian point of view".

Both parties have in the past advocated leaving the eurozone, but drastically toned down their rhetoric on the euro in the run-up to the March election. Most polling suggests the majority of Italian voters are in favour of Europe's single currency.

A presidential veto is nothing new in Italy, and previous prime ministers have put forward an alternative name for the post when it has happened. This time, though, the League and M5S refused to back down. Their PM candidate gave up his mandate, and both parties called for peaceful protests.

Salvini, a fellow eurosceptic who was Savona's biggest advocate, blamed the "powers-that-be, the markets, Berlin and Paris" for Mattarella's decision. The nationalist leader said that there would be League stands all over the country this weekend to collect signatures for a petition calling for the head of state, who is currently chosen by parliament, to be "directly elected by citizens".

How Italian and international press reacted to 'unprecedented' political crisis
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Meanwhile, M5S chief Luigi Di Maio called on party supporters to attend a rally in Rome on Saturday, the anniversary of Italy's transformation into a republic in 1946, after what he called "Italian democracy's darkest night".

"Paolo Savona would not have taken us out of the euro. It's a lie invented by Mattarella's advisors," Di Maio said in a live video on Facebook. "The truth is that they don't want us in government."

Di Maio also said that an impeachment trial for Mattarella, a former constitutional court judge, was "almost a certainty", but has since rowed back on this suggestion. On Tuesday he said impeachment was "no longer on the table". 

So what next for Italy?

After the collapse of the M5S-League government bid, the president nominated former IMF director Cottarelli to form a technocratic government.

Cottarelli has said that should his technocrat government win parliamentary approval, it would stay in place until elections at the "start of 2019". If it doesn't get approved – a highly probable scenario since the populist parties have a majority in parliament – it will only have a very limited mandate.

Di Maio has indicated that his party is willing to revise its positions and have another go at forming a political government, but Salvini publicly rejected the proposal.

"We are not at the market," he said on Wednesday when asked about the possibility. The League leader is advocating for an election at the earliest possible date, which is no surprise since polls suggest his party would be the biggest winner if the Italians return to the polls.

A recent opinion poll by IndexResearch put the League at 22 percent, five points up from its vote share in the March 4th ballot.

The earliest date at which elections could happen is late July, if Mattarella were to dissolve parliament this week. Italy has never before had a July election: the timing, during the traditional summer holiday season, could affect turnout significantly, and the short notice might cause problems for Italian voters living abroad.

Alternatively the vote could be delayed until the autumn, leaving Italy in limbo for at least two more months. 

READ ALSO: How the League's Matteo Salvini played his cards right amid Italy's political chaos

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP



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