Italy’s Conte might be back at helm with Salvini shut out

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Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, talks at the phone inside a mobile phones shop in the center of Rome, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. While Italians don’t know if they’ll soon have a new government, let alone who would lead it, U.S. President Donald Trump has cast his vote — for caretaker Premier Giuseppe Conte. A day after the two finished attending the G-7 summit in France, Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he hoped Conte would “remain” as premier. (Massimo Percossi/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — Two Italian political parties agreed Wednesday to try to form a new coalition government, putting aside past rivalry to forestall an election that could put right-wing nationalist Matteo Salvini in power as premier.

Luigi di Maio, the leader of the populist 5-Star Movement, said he had informed Italy’s president of his party’s potential partnership with the opposition Democratic Party that would see Giuseppe Conte return as prime minister.

Many analysts have said a government made up of such bitter political foes wasn’t likely to last long, in all probability only delaying the election Salvini wants to snag the premiership for himself.

Conte resigned a week ago after Salvini’s League party, the 5-Stars’ previous governing partner, bolted from their long-squabbling coalition. Di Maio said he told the president the Movement’s deal with the Democrats called for “Conte to again be premier and try to form a new government.”

Referring to a tweet on Tuesday by U.S. President Donald Trump praising Conte, Di Maio said: “Trump’s endorsement yesterday shows that we’re on the right path.”

Italian President Sergio Mattarella must decide if an alliance between the anti-establishment 5-Stars and the center-left Democrats can produce a viable majority in Parliament, where Conte would have to win a vote of confidence in both chambers to again be premier.

Di Maio brushed off skeptics who have questioned how the 5-Star Movement could agree to partner with a right-wing party last year and one on the left now.

The Movement is “post-ideological,” Di Maio said. “There no longer exist arrangements on the left and the right but only solutions.”

If Mattarella isn’t convinced Conte can lead a productive government with staying power, he can call a fall election.

The presidential palace said Conte has been asked to come speak with Mattarella on Thursday morning.

Salvini scorned the prospect of a Democratic-5-Star coalition, saying it wouldn’t hold up because “the only glue is hatred of the League.”

Echoing what many analysts have said, Salvini predicted a short life for any government Conte manages to cobble together. He predicted that a national election would come “in six months, a year” and result in the League’s triumph.

Earlier Wednesday, the leader of the Democratic Party described acquiescing to 5-Star Movement demands for another Conte premiership as being in Italy’s best interests to keep the League out of the government.

Party leader Nicola Zingaretti told reporters that he informed the president that because the 5-Stars were the biggest party in Parliament, the Democrats would back the movement’s choice for premier.

“We love Italy and we believe that it’s worthwhile to try this new experience,” Zingaretti said. “In complicated times like those of today, to avoid the responsibility of having the courage to try is something we cannot and do not want to allow.”

In an apparent reference to Salvini, who as interior minister cracked down on immigration and along with other League leaders accused migrants of fueling crime, Zingaretti added: “We intend to put an end to the season of hate, rancor and fear.”

Zingaretti had originally insisted that the wisest course is to put the choice for the next government in the hands of voters. But a powerful party faction led by former Premier Matteo Renzi has lobbied vigorously for a coalition deal with the 5-Stars.

Little has been revealed on how the pro-European Union Democrats would govern in a coalition with the 5-Stars, who resent EU influence on national policies. The Democrats sharply criticized the anti-migrant line of Conte’s government championed by Salvini.

Conte is a lawyer who, while officially non-partisan, has been openly sympathetic with the 5-Stars. The Movement championed him to head Italy’s first all-populist government, in coalition with another unnatural ally, Salvini’s League, in June 2018.

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