Napolitano makes time to mull political impasse

Grillo backtracks on supporting technocrat govt

Napolitano makes time to mull political impasse

Rome, March 5 - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday said he was giving himself as much time as possible to mull over the political impasse left by Italy's inconclusive elections. In a statement, Napolitano said it was "impossible" to bring forward the first joint session of the two houses of parliament, expected to come on March 15. This time, he said, would leave "ample space for a profitable preparatory phase ahead of the consultations of the head of state aimed at forming a new government". Napolitano is faced with a quandary because, although a coalition led by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) achieved a majority in the House after narrowly beating a centre-right alliance led by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, no party or coalition got a majority in the Senate, producing a hung parliament. The spectacular rise of the anti-establishment, anti-euro and anti-austerity 5-Star Movement (M5S), which became the single most-voted party in the House and holds the balance of power in the Senate, has left the president with few options because M5S leader and former comedian Beppe Grillo has refused to back PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani, whom he calls "a dead man talking" or three-time Berlusconi, whom he calls "the psycho-dwarf". Napolitano was expected to hand a government-formation mandate to Bersani after formal consultations with parties on March 21-22, since the PD's coalition has a House majority and is also, by just six seats, ahead of the PdL in the Senate. The PD leader has been making overtures to Grillo to agree a limited platform of measures, reflecting the core of the M5S manifesto, to cut political costs, reform Italy's much-criticised 'pigsty' electoral law, boost growth and help the neediest, and pass a conflict-of-interest law that would finally resolve an issue that has weighed heavily on Italian politics since media magnate Berlusconi first swept to power in 1994. But Grillo flatly rejected Bersani's appeal and heaped more insults on the PD leader. On Monday the foul-mouthed rabble-rouser predicted the next government would be a PD-PdL grand coalition led by ex-banker Corrado Passera, the powerful industry minister in Mario Monti's outgoing technocratic government who might find favour with financial markets and the European Union, which is watching with bated breath for any sign Italy could re-ignite the eurozone debt crisis. Pundits said any such coalition would be doomed to a short life and Grillo's was hopeful of this outcome. A Passera-led government, according to this hypothesis, would make traditional politicians even less popular with voters so the M5S could garner even more support in another general election later this year. It would also revive criticism by Grillo of the alleged banking lobby and EU watchdogs which some have associates with former EU commissioner Monti. Then, on Monday night, the M5S changed tack again and suggested they would lend support to another necessarily short-lived technocratic government along the lines of the Monti-led one that pulled Italy away from a Greek-style meltdown in November 2011 only to impose crushing austerity that alienated voters. But then on Tuesday morning the M5S Senate caucus leader Vito Crimi roundly denied having opened up to the prospect of supporting a government of unelected technocrats to help the country emerge from its political deadlock. Crimi, who had seemed on Monday to suggest a technocrat government could be a solution when he responded "we'll see, first they have to form it," on Tuesday seemed to close the door on this option. "I point out that I never spoke about supporting a technocrat government," Crimi said on his Facebook page. "The only solution that we propose is a 5-Star Movement government that immediately implements without hesitation the first 20 points on our programme and then all the rest," he said, adding that he would not speak to the media on Tuesday or Wednesday. Crimi's statement was followed hours later by a blog post from Grillo himself, firmly ruling the prospect of the M5S supporting a technocrat government. "The M5S will not vote confidence in a technocrat government, I never said it would," the former comedian wrote on his blog. Grillo also criticised the record of Monti's government which, among other things, changed Italy's labour laws to make it easier for firms to fire workers - although the reform was watered down because of PD opposition. "The Monti government has been the most political of the post-war period," he said. "Before no one had ever questioned Article 18 (of the 1970 worker statute) that defends workers", Grillo posted. With Grillo exerting all the gadfly energies his kingmaker role gives him, pundits say Napolitano will be hard put to come up with a solution to the stalemate and Italy might be headed for another election sooner rather than later - despite the head of State having ruled this out. Monti, meanwhile, is using what remains of his political clout after a dire election result to call Bersani, Berlusconi and Grillo to "consultations" ahead of an upcoming EU summit. On Tuesday, in another apparent bid to bolster Napolitano's efforts, the outgoing premier met with Matteo Renzi, the Tony Blair-style youthful mayor of Florence who many see as a replacement for Bersani as PD leader in the next election. Renzi, defeated by Bersani in PD primaries in November, appeals to a much wider electorate, according to opinion polls.

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