May 3, 2018 / 10:31 AM / a year ago

Italy's president calls new government consultations on May 7

ROME (Reuters) - President Sergio Mattarella has called for a fresh round of consultations with party leaders on May 7 to try to end nine weeks of increasingly fractious political deadlock following inconclusive March elections.

FILE PHOTO: Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Mattarella has already held two rounds of talks which failed to end the stalemate while two further efforts at mediation carried out by parliamentary speakers also hit a brick wall.

“After two months, the initial positions of the parties have not changed. No prospect has emerged for a government,” the head of state’s office said in a statement, adding that the president wanted to hear if party leaders had any other ideas.

Mattarella’s options are rapidly dwindling and the possibility of a return to the polls sometime between the coming autumn and next spring looks increasingly likely.

A national election on March 4 saw a center-right alliance led by the anti-immigrant League winning the most seats and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement emerging as the biggest single party. The center-left Democratic Party (PD) came third.

A matrix of criss-crossing vetoes has so far prevented the parties from agreeing to a coalition deal, with friction and frustration growing by the day.

Underscoring the sense of paralysis, the PD was due to decide later on Thursday whether to open formal negotiations with 5-Star. However, Mattarella did not wait for their decision before announcing Monday’s meetings - an acknowledgement that the deeply divided party will be unable to agree to such a deal.

Having come to the same conclusion, the leader of the 5-Star this week called for an immediate revote in June, but a source in the president’s office told Reuters on Wednesday that the head of state would reject this demand.

Instead, Mattarella wants to put together a stopgap government to draw up a 2019 budget that has to be approved by the end of December.

If party leaders fail to sign up to such an administration, which would almost certainly be led by a non-political figure, then a new vote would be held in the autumn - probably October.

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

While 5-Star is pushing for an immediate re-vote, other parties have suggested working together to devise a new election system. However, winning wide backing for such a pact in the current political climate looks highly unlikely.

While Italy’s day-to-day administration is being overseen by caretaker prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, latest economic forecasts from the European Commission have underlined the need for a fully empowered government ready to undertake reform.

The forecasts showed that the Italian economy was set to grow 1.5 percent this year and just 1.2 percent next — the lowest amongst the European Union’s 27 member states.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Philip Pullella and Richard Balmforth

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