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Members of Italian center left flirt with 5 Stars to avert snap election

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Members of Italian center left flirt with 5Stars to avert snap election –...

ROME — An unlikely alliance is forming in Italy to block Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party from tightening its grip on power.

Salvini pulled the plug last week on the coalition government with the 5Stars, opening up the prospect of a snap election at a time when his party is at the top of the polls.

Fearing such a vote will leave them weakened and produce a League-led government, a faction of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the 5Star Movement are now discussing a scheme to avoid a snap election and install a caretaker government instead, according to two PD officials and two 5Star officials involved in the talks.

Such a partnership is especially surprising given the two parties have continued to exchange barbs up until very recently, and the PD previously refused to join an alliance with the 5Stars after last year’s election, leading the anti-establishment 5Stars to ultimately team up with the League.

But according to one senior 5Star lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, an alliance with the PD “would be the only way to prevent Italy from getting Western Europe’s first right-wing government since World War II.”

Leaders of Italy’s parliamentary parties will meet Monday afternoon to discuss a proposed motion of no confidence in the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.

Assuming it passes, as widely expected, snap elections will not be automatic. President Sergio Mattarella will ultimately decide whether to call a new vote as early as October or to install a caretaker government based on an alternative majority in parliament.

“Voting now would be crazy” — Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Under the PD-5Star plan, backed by former PD Prime Minister Matteo Renzi but not the party leadership, the two parties would team up to create an alternative majority for a caretaker government to secure Italy’s public finances and avoid it crashing out of the eurozone under the Euroskeptic League.

The caretaker government would also be tasked with cutting parliamentary seats and reforming the electoral law system, according to the party officials.

The plan has been dubbed “Ursula” after European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen because it brings together the Italian parties that voted for her in the European Parliament.

Such a plan would also likely require the support of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which could prove difficult given the party has long been the main target of criticism from the 5Stars and many FI members hope to have a political future with the League. Still, some analysts have suggested members of FI would nevertheless opt for a caretaker government over losing support in a snap election.

Both Renzi and 5Star leader Luigi Di Maio on Sunday promoted the idea of cutting parliamentary seats — a failed proposal under Renzi’s government — as a way to save public money in the next legislature before heading back to the polls. Such a move could also reduce the League’s power in parliament.

Controversial ‘Ursula’

A tie-up between the PD and 5Stars has long been rumored in Italian media and denied by party members. As recently as last month, Renzi threatened to leave the PD if it worked with the 5Stars, and his supporters have used the hashtag #senzadime (“without me”) for over a year every time speculation of a PD-5Star alliance was reported.

And staunch opposition to working with the anti-establishment party remains within top levels of the PD. The party’s new leader, Nicola Zingaretti, on Sunday categorically ruled out the possibility of such an alliance.

“Salvini wants snap elections … For months the PD has ruled out any alliance whatsoever with the 5Stars and I have even been unfairly accused [by party colleagues] of scheming in favor of this plan,” Zingaretti wrote in an op-ed for the Huffington Post Italy. “I don’t think there are any shortcuts now.”

Zingaretti has also sued Di Maio for defamation for linking the PD to an investigation into a potential illegal adoption ring.

“The Ursula plan is an unlikely outcome but realistically the only alternative to snap elections” — Lorenzo Pregliasco, political analyst

A close associate of Zingaretti, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed he wants to head back to the polls and has no intention of making plans with a party that has acted as “a crutch to Salvini up until last week.”

But there is an incentive for those close to Renzi to try to avert a snap election. Most of the current PD members of parliament were elected from a list of candidates compiled by him in early 2018. In the Senate, four out of every five senators are allies of Renzi.

And all of them risk being replaced by Zingaretti in the next general election. Furthermore, an influential part of Zingaretti’s own inner circle, including former Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, has long supported an alliance with the “moderate” wing of the 5Stars to stop the rise of the far-right nationalists.

Like Renzi’s supporters, many senior 5Stars officials also risk losing their jobs. The party is currently polling at 17 percent, down from last year’s 33 percent, and a rule imposed by their own bylaws bars those who have already served two mandates — including Di Maio and lower house Speaker Roberto Fico — from running again.

But Zingaretti, like many political analysts, sees the potential PD-5Star alliance as suicidal.

“The threat Salvini represents to liberal democracy is very clear to me, but supporting weak and messy schemes would lead to the same but a bigger problem in a few weeks,” Zingaretti wrote in the op-ed.

The Italian government is due to pass complicated budget legislation this fall, and with economic growth close to zero and public spending on the rise, it will have to make very unpopular choices to keep public finances in check to avoid further scrutiny from Brussels.

Renzi has argued a caretaker government could approve Italy’s 2020 budget and ensure the country doesn’t agitate the new European Commission by increasing its public deficit under plans supported by the League.

But analysts also argue the Ursula plan could ultimately lead to an even stronger League party.

“The Ursula plan is an unlikely outcome but realistically the only alternative to snap elections,” said political analyst Lorenzo Pregliasco. “However, scheming to place Italy’s biggest party in opposition would give Salvini extra ammunition [against political elites] and ultimately increase his popularity.”

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