Italy Democrats Demand New Premier as Price for Government Role

Chiara Albanese

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s Democrats and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement have just a couple of days to put aside their historical rivalry and work out a deal that will spare the country a snap vote.

The biggest stumbling bloc is who will lead the new government.

Five Star is pushing to keep Giuseppe Conte as prime minister of an untested new coalition with the Democratic Party, a red line for the center-left party. Party leaders Luigi Di Maio and Nicola Zingaretti met in Rome late Friday to follow up on talks initiated earlier in the day by their lawmakers.

“Italy needs a government of change” that breaks with the past, the Democrats said in a party statement. In a Facebook post published Saturday, Zingaretti reiterated that a government of change is needed to re-start growth, but he added that his party is ready to discuss all the policy points presented by Five Star.

Conte resigned earlier this week after League leader Matteo Salvini withdrew his support for the 14-month old government in a bid to capitalize on a surge in voters’ support.

According to daily La Repubblica, outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Di Maio has posed two conditions in his talks with the Democrats: confirming Conte as prime minister and moving ahead with plans to cut the number of lawmakers. The Democrats are pushing for much broader constitutional reform instead.

Despite the differences, lawmakers from both parties said they had held a first constructive meeting and that no real hurdles stood in their way.

Tuesday Deadline

President Sergio Mattarella, who holds the power to either appoint the next prime minister or call elections, has given the parties until Aug. 27 to put together a new parliamentary majority.

As talks between Five Star and the Democrats progress, another scenario remains open, though unlikely: a new alliance between Salvini and Five Star, with Di Maio being offered the premiership.

According to daily Corriere della Sera, Di Maio and Salvini exchanged several texts during the day discussing possible scenarios. In return for offering Di Maio the premiership, Salvini would keep his position as interior minister, which he has used to conduct a fierce battle against migration.

If Italy’s main parties are unable to strike a deal by Tuesday, Mattarella has indicated that new elections would have to be held.

A poll by Tecne on Thursday showed support for the League dropping to 31.3%, from 38% earlier this month. Five Star was at 20.8% (up from 17.5%) and the Democrats at 24.6% (up from 22.4%).

(Updates with Facebook post by Zingaretti Saturday.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Chiara Albanese in Rome at calbanese10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Nick Rigillo, Dylan Griffiths

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