Italian president to decide on snap elections next week after new round of talks

Italian President Sergio Mattarella speaks to the press after consultations with political parties' leaders, in Rome, Italy, August 22, 2019. (Photo: Agencies)

ROME - Italian President Sergio Mattarella said on Thursday that he would decide on possible snap elections next week, after a new round of talks with parties aimed at solving the crisis triggered by the collapse of the populist government.

"The president of the Republic has a duty to not preclude the will expressed by a majority of forces in parliament," Mattarella declared at a short press conference at the Quirinale Palace.

"At the same time... in the country's interest, I have the duty to ask (from parties) quick decisions."

"I will start new political consultations next Tuesday, in order to make the necessary decision," he said.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the head of state held a first round of talks with leaders of every single party holding seats in parliament, to verify whether there was the political will to forge an alternative majority and form a new government.

This followed the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday, which put an end of the 15-month or so rightwing government based on a coalition between far-right, anti-immigrant League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

The prime minister's resignation was due to the decision of League leader Matteo Salvini to pull the plug on the government earlier in August in a bid to trigger snap elections.

Speaking to reporters, Mattarella explained that during the first round of talks some of the parties told him there were ongoing negotiations to find a possible deal and solve the current crisis, and asked him for more time.

Indeed, both the M5S, which holds the largest number of seats in both chambers of parliament, and center-left opposition Democratic Party (PD) confirmed they were ready to negotiate in the next days to see whether they could agree on a common government program.

On Wednesday, PD leader Nicola Zingaretti announced that his party would be open to a possible deal with the M5S, but only on condition that five program points were respected, including "a loyal EU membership... a change in the country's (tough) migration policies, and a major shift in social and economic recipes."

On Thursday, after meeting the president, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio explained that his party did not want Italians to "pay for the crisis."

He said the M5S would be ready to form a new majority on the base of 10 requirements, including a cut in the number of lawmakers, the "sterilization" of a VAT increase, and a tax cut for companies making new hiring.

In his short statement, the head of state stressed that to call snap elections in this political phase, with domestic and international deadlines looming, was not an easy decision.

"This decision is not to be taken lightly, after just a little over a year of legislature, and while the Constitution provides for voters to be called to elect the parliament every five years," Mattarella explained.

However, the president noted, "the recourse to voters is necessary if the parliament is not able to express a government majority."