Italy’s Democratic Party rejects deal with Five Star, Centre-Right

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The acting leader of Italy’s ruling Democratic Party rejected approaches from the centre-right and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement as the fractious party agonizes over whether it should help break the country’s political gridlock.

Deputy-secretary Maurizio Martina said the party intended to “deeply respect” voters who inflicted its worst-ever result on March 4. Italians favoured the centre-right and Five Star, which were the biggest winners, though neither received enough votes to govern alone.

“We will continue to serve citizens, from the opposition, with the role of a parliamentary minority,” Martina, 39, agriculture minister in the outgoing government, told a meeting of the party’s leadership in Rome, according to newswire Ansa. Martina read out a brief resignation letter from Matteo Renzi, who stepped down as PD chief after more than four years in the job.

The party is in a position to form a majority with either of the two main groups, but is divided on how to respond to approaches from Five Star and from the centre-right which is led by the anti-migrant League. PD officials say a large majority wants it to be in opposition, though anything could happen in the weeks to come.

Campaign rivals are positioning themselves ahead of votes for parliamentary speakers starting on March 23, which will be a pointer to new alliances. President Sergio Mattarella, who has the task of nominating a premier, is due to start formally consulting party leaders in early April.

“To the forces who won, we say only one thing: now you have no alibi,” Martina said. “I say it in particular to the League and to Five Star: the citizens voted for you to govern, now do it.”

On the eve of the meeting, ex-premier Renzi ruled out any participation in government. “No to institutional governments, no possible collaboration with Five Star or the right,” Renzi, 43, told Corriere della Sera earlier Monday. “We need to start from zero, from the opposition.”

Renzi, who won a seat in the Senate, denied speculation that he might create a new party of his own, following in the footsteps of French President Emmanuel Macron. Still, in a later email message to followers he said: “We’re not giving up, we’re not leaving the future in the hands of others.”

Michele Emiliano, head of a minority faction, told reporters before the leadership meeting that the PD should give external support to a Five Star government. “Repeat elections are impossible and very dangerous for the PD, and I don’t think the PD can back a government of the right,” he said.

The party’s stand depends on who will be chosen as leader in early April, at a national assembly, or in several months’ time if primaries are held. Possible contenders include Martina himself, premier Paolo Gentiloni, economic development minister Carlo Calenda and Nicola Zingaretti, head of the regional government for the Rome area.

If gridlock persists for several weeks, the PD could prove receptive to a possible appeal from Mattarella for all political forces to join a government tasked with limited objectives such as pushing the 2019 budget through parliament by the end of the year, and a reform of the electoral system.

League leader Matteo Salvini, whose party has reached out to the PD, said Monday he would ask in parliament for the votes he needs to achieve a majority, and insisted he would not give ground on the main measures of his program.

“We’ll never go into government if we can’t do what we want to,” Salvini said in Milan. He listed scrapping a pension reform which raised the retirement age, “control illegal immigration and renegotiate European treaties.”