ROME - Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement joined with conservative parties Saturday to elect the speakers of both houses of parliament, but there was no sign yet they might extend this pact and form a government.
The March 4 national election ended in a hung parliament, with the 5-Star becoming the largest party and a rightist alliance, including ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the anti-migrant League, emerging as the biggest bloc.
After days of behind-the-scenes talks, the two factions joined forces to elect 5-Star heavyweight Roberto Fico president of the lower house and Forza Italia veteran Elisabetta Casellati president of the Senate — both highly prestigious posts.
The conservative alliance came close to collapse Friday after the League sided with 5-Star to reject Forza Italia’s first choice for the Senate position, but hasty overnight negotiations patched up the row, at least for now.
“I am very happy, moved and proud that parliament has started to work and that the center-right has held together,” League leader Matteo Salvini said after Saturday’s twin votes.
The election of the speakers opens the way for formal government consultations, which will be led by President Sergio Mattarella and are expected to start early next month.
Later on Saturday Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni officially handed in his resignation and that of his government to Mattarella, as normally happens in Italy when a newly elected parliament appoints its speakers.
Gentiloni, however, will remain in place to take care of day-to-day operations until a new government is formed, the secretary of the president said in an emailed statement.
5 Star evolving
The 5-Star and the right have enough seats in parliament to govern Italy, but there are many impediments to such a deal in terms of policy mismatches and personality clashes.
Nonetheless, Saturday’s ballots showed that the 5-Star is evolving. It used to excoriate such parliamentary deal-making as old-style politics, so by agreeing to a deal in both houses it suggested it might prove more flexible in future.
Post-election opinion polls have shown support for Forza Italia collapse in favor of the League, which has promised a fierce clampdown on illegal immigration and a hefty reduction in both business and personal taxes.
Backing for the 5-Star has also climbed further over the past three weeks, with the movement promising to introduce a generous “Citizen’s Wage” to help the poor and jobless.
Both the League and 5-Star have voiced fierce hostility to EU budget rules and markets are likely to be spooked by any sign they might form a coalition. However, their divergent economic platforms represent a serious hurdle to alliance deals.