ROME (Reuters) - Efforts to end Italy’s political stalemate stalled on Friday after two days of fruitless talks, with President Sergio Mattarella saying he needed more time to try to put together a coalition government.
“I will wait a few days, and then I will evaluate how to proceed to break the deadlock,” the head of state told reporters following the second round of consultations aimed at overcoming last month’s inconclusive national election.
The anti-system 5-Star Movement emerged as the largest single party in the March 4 vote, while a conservative coalition of smaller groups, led by the far-right League, won the most seats. Both sides fell well short of an absolute majority.
The 5-Star has said it is willing to govern with the League, but has refused to link up with its ally — former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party.
The League is refusing to abandon Forza Italia, while the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which could help either bloc form a government, is insisting on staying in opposition.
“From the way the consultations have gone in the past few days, it has become evident that the political parties’ talks... made no progress,” a glum-looking Mattarella said.
The president said he had told the party leaders that Italy, the euro zone’s third largest economy, needed a fully functioning government to confront an array of problems, including international trade disputes and the growing Syrian crisis.
A senior state official said he expected Mattarella to make a move next Wednesday or Thursday if the parties themselves failed to find an accord between themselves.
One of his options would be to appoint a neutral figure to mediate via more informal talks than those that take place in the presidential palace.
Alternatively, in an effort to force the pace, he could give a preliminary mandate to the leader of the League or the 5-Star to try to come up with a coalition deal themselves. If they then failed to do so, their government aspirations would be wrecked.
League leader Matteo Salvini urged Forza Italia and 5-Star on Friday to stop bickering and agree to govern together or run the risk of a new election.
“If the squabbles, the fighting, the tantrums and the teasing continue, it’s best to go and vote again,” he told RAI state TV.
Latest opinion polls show backing for the League and 5-Star has risen over the past month, while support for 81-year-old Berlusconi has dropped sharply, suggesting he would be highly unwilling to return to the polls.
Salvini and Berlusconi saw Mattarella together on Thursday, alongside their ally Giorgia Meloni — a display of unity that was meant to show 5-Star their alliance could not be broken.
However, the facade was badly cracked when Berlusconi unexpectedly addressed reporters at the end of the meeting to accuse 5-Star of “ignoring the basics of democracy”.
His outburst infuriated his partners and also stung 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio, who said the incident showed why he could not work with Berlusconi, who has been dogged by graft and sex scandals for much of his 25-years in politics.
Additional reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy