Italy’s Conte forms new coalition of populists and Democrats

Giuseppe Conte; Italy
Giuseppe Conte

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has forged a new coalition government that teams up the populist 5-Star Movement and centre-left Democrats in an alliance aimed at shutting out fast-rising right-wing forces from power.

Six days after President Sergio Mattarella asked him to try to form a new government, Mr Conte reported back to the presidential Quirinal Palace that he had succeeded.

Mr Conte told reporters that he and the new ministers will “dedicate our best energies, our abilities, our passion to making Italy better in the interest of all Italians”.

The prime minister’s first, 14-month-old government collapsed last month when anti-migrant leader Matteo Salvini yanked his League party out of Mr Conte’s coalition.

Buoyed by months of rising popularity in opinion polls and the European Parliament elections, Mr Salvini had been betting his surprise pullout would prompt early elections that could have brought him the premiership.

But after days of haggling, parliament’s largest opposition force, the Democratic Party, and the 5-Star Movement, long bitter rivals, worked out a deal to team up in a government again headed by Mr Conte.

The premier, before he headed his first government in June 2018, was a novice to politics with a career as a law professor and mediation specialist.

He considers himself non-partisan, although acknowledges sympathising with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

Mr Mattarella reminded journalists that Mr Conte still faces one crucial hurdle.

The coalition must win mandatory confidence votes in the legislature’s two chambers.

Together, the Democrats, 5-Stars and a tiny left-wing party should muster a slim majority.

No date has been set for Mr Conte to address parliament in a pitch for support or the vote.

Ministers will be sworn in on Thursday morning.

The key posts include a Democrat, Roberto Gualtieri, as economy minister.

He now heads the European Parliament’s commission on economy and finance and will have to steer delicate manoeuvres by the government to drastically pare down a deficit that worsened with the populists’ social welfare programmes in Mr Conte’s first government.

Mr Salvini loses his position as interior minister, a post he exploited to boost popularity among his voter base by stiffening a crackdown on humanitarian ships rescuing migrants at sea.

His League party blames migrants for crime.

He will be replaced by Luciana Lamorgese, currently an Interior Ministry official in Milan who is considered an immigration expert and also non-partisan.

The 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio becomes foreign minister.

Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti, governor of the Lazio region including Rome, declined to have any ministry post to concentrate on strengthening his long-fractious party.

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