May 4, 2018 / 7:03 AM / 21 days ago

Italy's League sets terms for stopgap government, 5-Star wants election

ROME (Reuters) - The anti-immigrant League laid down on Friday its terms for the formation of a stopgap government in Italy tasked with writing a 2019 budget and preparing for new elections after an inconclusive vote in March.

Anti-establishment 5-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio speaks following a talk with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy, April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

However, it was far from clear if the League’s opponents would back its demands, including that the prime minister should come from center-right ranks, with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement seeking a re-vote in June to end the deadlock.

President Sergio Mattarella has called a final round of talks with party leaders on Monday to try to secure a coalition deal but, failing that, he is expected to seek support for a technocrat, unity government to draw up the budget.

League leader Matteo Salvini told reporters any such administration had to take into account that a center-right alliance, including his own party, had taken the most seats in parliament at the March 4 ballot.

“We will tell Mattarella that, in the case of an interim government, the (prime minister) must come from the ranks of the side that won and not be a technocrat,” Salvini said.

He said such an administration could last six months and look to revise Italy’s much-maligned electoral law, as well as approve a budget to stave off the looming threat of a scheduled jump in sales taxes.

Salvini called on 5-Star, which emerged as the largest single party in March, to back the idea, adding that he did not want the center-left Democratic Party (PD) on board.

There was no immediate reaction from 5-Star, but everything Salvini said seemed to run counter to what the anti-system group has been calling for after its own solutions to end nine weeks of political stalemate got gunned down by its rivals.

NO MAJORITY

In an interview with Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper on Friday 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said an election should be held on June 24, waving away concerns that there was no time to organize it and dismissing the need for a stopgap administration.

“Once a government starts, it will cling on at all costs,” he said.

He also rejected suggestions that parliament should revise the electoral law yet again to try to stave off future deadlock: “It can’t be done. We would waste years arguing about it.”

The last four Italian prime ministers took office thanks to backroom deals rather than ballot-box victories, and repeated efforts to devise an electoral law allowing the swift formation of a government have failed to come up with a winning formula.

No group came close to securing an absolute majority on March 4 and a matrix of vetoes has prevented the parties from doing a deal, with friction and frustration growing by the day.

Mattarella has made clear he does not want to dissolve parliament immediately. A source in his office told Reuters on Wednesday that if a government could not take power with a stable majority, elections would be inevitable in the autumn.

Opinion polls suggest a new vote would still end in stalemate, although the center-right is gaining ground.

A survey by Demopolis released on Thursday put 5-Star on 33.2 percent against the 32.7 percent they won in March, while the center-right bloc was forecast to take 39.5 percent against 37.1 and the center-left 21.1 percent from 22.8.

The biggest change was seen within the rightist alliance, with support for the eurosceptic League jumping to 22.9 percent from 17.4 percent and backing for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia dropping to 12.2 percent from 14.0.

Writing by Crispian Balmer; Additional reporting by Sara Rossi in Milan; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Gavin Jones

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