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POLITICS

Italy’s president opens talks on new government after PM quits

Italy's president has begun discussions with political leaders on Wednesday on forming a new government following the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Italy's president opens talks on new government after PM quits
Rome's Quirinale Presidential Palace with its flags at half mast on January 27th. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Conte stepped down on Tuesday after weeks of political turmoil weakened his coalition government, but he is hoping to return at the head of a strengthened government.

EXPLAINED: Why has Italy's prime minister resigned and what happens now?

President Sergio Mattarella, the ultimate arbiter of Italian politics, asked Conte to stay on while he establishes if this is viable – or if someone else should take over.

The head of state is set to meet the presidents of both parliamentary chambers before more talks on Thursday and Friday with party leaders

For now, Italy has been left with a vacuum at the top of government while it is trying to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic crisis.

President Mattarella “has invited the government to stay in office in a caretaker capacity” until a new solution is found, his office said.

That means the current cabinet will continue to run the country, but they can't make any significant decisions.

PROFILE: Italian president Sergio Mattarella, the country's 'political referee'

Conte, who cancelled a scheduled speech to the World Economic Forum Wednesday, said after his resignation that Italy required “a clear perspective and a government with a larger and safer majority”

“My resignation serves this possibility: the formation of a new government that can offer a prospect of national salvation,” he wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: AFP

However, he acknowledged that he himself – a former law professor plucked from obscurity to lead a previous government after the 2018 elections – may not necessarily be at the helm.

“The only thing that really matters, regardless of who will be called to lead Italy, is that the Republic can raise its head again,” he wrote.

The current ruling parties, including the populist Five Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), are hoping to stay in office and avoid snap elections.

Opinion polls suggest that the right/wing opposition coalition, which includes Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's far-right League, would win power.

But forming a new government would mean working again with former premier Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva party, which sparked the current crisis by leaving the coalition.

 

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.

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