Italy: Populist parties win tacit Berlusconi OK to form govt

ROME — Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the populist, right-wing League appeared headed to forming a government Wednesday after ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose party is a political partner of the League's, said he wouldn't get in the way.

Berlusconi said in a statement that his Forza Italia party would not support a confidence vote establishing a 5-Star-League government, deeming the 5-Stars too immature to govern. But in a valuable go-ahead, he said Forza Italia wouldn't prevent the League from trying.

The developments over the course of a few hours Wednesday provided the biggest breakthrough in the nearly two months of inconclusive negotiations to form a government. A March 4 parliamentary election that laid bare Italians' disgust with traditional politics, anxiety over the economy and opposition to migrants.

It wasn't immediately clear, though, if the 5-Stars and League had the votes to win a confidence vote in both houses of the Italian Parliament.

Earlier in the day, the two populist parties, which were the election's biggest winners, asked Italian President Sergio Mattarella for another 24 hours to continue their negotiations, a sign that a deal was afoot.

On Monday, Mattarella proposed a "neutral" government to lead Italy through the end of the year since the postelection consultations failed to produce an alliance that could win a parliamentary majority.

Mattarella argued that Italy could not wait any longer for a government, given upcoming European Union obligations. He said another election before 2019 could expose the country to dangerous financial speculation.

The 5-Stars and the League rejected his proposal, warning they would rather go to a new election as early as July than turn over the government to "neutral" technocrats when Italians clearly voted for change.

The League-led center-right coalition received 37 percent of the vote, and the 5-Stars 32 percent. The ruling Democratic Party received its worst result in history with 19 percent.

The 5-Stars and the League had been in talks on trying to form an alliance, but were stymied by the 5-Stars' refusal to accept Berlusconi's forces in any government. The 5-Stars consider Forza Italia part of the establishment politics the movement abhors.

League leader Matteo Salvini, however, refused to break with Berlusconi, who included the League as a junior partner in each of his three previous governments had

Salvini repeated Wednesday that a "prerequisite" of the talks with the 5-Stars was the center-right coalition remaining united. In his statement Wednesday, Berlusconi made clear the coalition was intact.

The former premier said it would have been more logical for the center-right coalition led by the League to try to form a government. But given Mattarella's refusal to give Salvini the mandate, Berlusconi said he wouldn't stand in the way of the League taking responsibility to try to form a government with the 5-Stars.

"In this case we certainly can't give a confidence vote, but we will evaluate in a serene and unprejudiced way the operation of a government that might come about," he said.

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