Italian opposition leader ‘optimistic’ coalition can formed

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Secretary of the Italian Democratic Party (PD), Nicola Zingaretti, talks to the press outside the centre-left party headquarters in Rome, Italy, Monday, Aug. 26 2019. ingaretti challenged the 5-Stars to agree to a government whose planks would be a clear break with those of the coalition that just collapsed. (Fabio Frustaci/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — The head of Italy’s opposition Democrats expressed optimism Monday a deal can be struck with the populist 5-Star Movement to form a new government of rivals that would keep right-wing leader Matteo Salvini out of power and possibly bring back the same premier who quit barely a week ago, reflecting the topsy-turvy state of the country’s politics.

Late in the evening, Democratic Party chief Nicola Zingaretti headed back to Chigi Palace, the premier’s office, for talks with 5-Star Leader Luigi Di Maio as well as with caretaker Premier Giuseppe Conte, who quit his post last week after Salvini yanked his right-wing League’s support for the government.

The huddle was reported to be still underway after midnight, several hours after Conte returned from the just-ended G-7 summit in France to begin discussions in Rome.

Earlier, Zingaretti told reporters that his previous meeting with Movement leader Luigi Di Maio was “positive.”

“I believe we’re on the right path,” Zingaretti said. “We had asked that we start off discussing ideas and content, and tonight we’ll go into details, I’m optimistic.”

The choice of who would become premier — possibly Conte again — has been looming as a major hurdle, especially since Zingaretti has been demanding that any new government break with the past.

But Conte’s participation in the talks signaled he might head the government to replace the one that just collapsed, but instead of a 5-Star coalition with Salvini’s League party, the new coalition would forge an alliance with the Movement and the center-left Democrats.

Conte quit last week after Salvini, riding a wave of popularity, yanked support for the nearly 15-month-old government in a bid to trigger new elections the League leader bets will bring him the premiership.

In announcing his resignation, Conte blamed his demise on the disloyalty of his right-wing Interior Minister Salvini and blasted the anti-migrant League leader’s blatant personal ambitions in sabotaging the coalition in pursuit of elections.

Just ahead of the late night session, Zingaretti had evaded questions on whether Conte, a non-partisan who enjoys 5-Star support might be tapped to forge another coalition that this time shuts out Salvini and his nationalist League party.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has said that if by mid-week he doesn’t have guarantees a new coalition would give the country a lasting government, he’ll dissolve Parliament, triggering elections this fall, 3 ½ years ahead of time.

Zingaretti said that just such a government is his goal.

“Assembling a government is a serious thing, we’re serious people,” Zingaretti said. “We don’t want to form another one like the last one that collapsed after 14 months.”

Salvini, who only a few days ago dangled the possibility that he and Di Maio could cobble together a fresh coalition, almost sounded resigned Monday night that his power play to win new elections soon would be thwarted.

“It seems like a government is being born with (the goal of) power being the only glue” holding the would-be coalition together, Salvini told reporters. All that’s left to do for the Democrats and 5-Stars is the “divvying up of the ministries, the undersecretaries” and so on.

“The high road is voting,” Salvini insisted. Any new government would be “betrayal of the popular will,” he said.

A new government must win mandatory confidence votes in each of Parliament’s two chambers.

Mattarella’s office announced that he would hold a second round of talks with party leaders, starting with the smallest parties in Parliament on Tuesday evening. Mattarella set aside Wednesday for longer closed-door sessions with the heads of the Democrats, the League and the 5-Stars.

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