Rome

Hopes for centre-left govt dwindle, M5S not budging

Anti-establishment bloc ready to expel anyone who backs Bersani

Hopes for centre-left govt dwindle, M5S not budging

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, March 11 - Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani's hopes of breaking Italy's political deadlock to form a government appear to be dwindling, with attempts to reach out to the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) not bearing fruit. Bersani's coalition came first in last month's election but failed to win a working majority in the Senate after ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre right arrived a close second and comedian Beppe Grillo's Internet-based M5S captured a huge protest vote. Bersani has ruled out forming a grand coalition with Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, concentrating his post-election strategy to making overtures to the M5S, even though it is hostile to established groups like his centre-left Democratic Party (PD). Last week he presented an eight-point platform for a "government of change" that features some of the points of the M5S's manifesto, including cuts to the number of lawmakers and the introduction of a universal system of unemployment benefits. The hope was that this would convince the M5S, which holds the balance of power in parliament after 163 of its political novices were elected, to vote confidence in a Bersani executive. At the weekend there was speculation that the new M5S MPs, who started the procedures to register as parliamentarians along with the members of other parties on Monday, might hold a vote on whether to back a centre-left government. This was swiftly squashed by Grillo, who has not personally been elected and said via his Twitter account on Sunday that he would quit politics if the M5S votes confidence in Bersani. The position was reiterated on Monday by the M5S's future House whip Roberta Lombardi, who said any of the movement's lawmakers who vote confidence in a government led by Bersani will be expelled. "There won't be a deal (for a confidence vote)," said Lombardi. "If anyone decides to do it, they'll be out of the movement". Grillo and his supporters blame Italy's problems on the whole political class, which has been tarnished by a series of corruption scandals. They say they won't cut any deals with the established parties, although they would be willing to cooperate on specific reforms. If the deadlock is not broken, Italy may well have to return to the polls later this year. Bersani admitted Monday that the odds were against him. "Our effort is to get through a narrow door, that's very true," he said of a meeting of the PD's new MPs. "But I'd like to know which one is wider. We don't have any motorways to go down". On Monday Grillo challenged Bersani to go further than he has in his eight-point programme and commit the PD to renouncing public funding, as the M5S does. This issue has already created tension within the PD. At the weekend Matteo Renzi, the Tony Blair-style 38-year old mayor of Florence who lost to Bersani in the centre-left's primaries, has said the PD should come out in favour of abolishing State financing of parties. This prompted the PD to issue a terse statement saying that the party's policy on how to cut the costs of the political system were included in the eight-point programme. Many see the telegenic Renzi as a replacement for Bersani as PD leader in the next election. Renzi appeals to a much wider electorate, according to opinion polls, although he is regarded with suspicion by some within the party who think his campaign to rejuvenate the political system and send older politicians to the "scrapheap" is born of ambition rather than principle. Grillo's solution to the political gridlock would be for the other parties to back a M5S government. The movement's manifesto, which has been criticised for being too vague, features pledges to promote free broadband access, the abolition of stock options, a cap on the salaries of senior executives, a ban on the privatisation of local water companies, more energy saving and renewables, a basic income guarantee and a conflict-of-interests law. Grillo, who has been blasted as a populist rabble-rouser advocating policies that would take Italy towards a Greek-style economic meltdown, has also said Italy should have a referendum on whether the euro should continue to be its currency and has proposed that all trade unions be abolished. Not all of the new M5S MPs gave their bank details when they started their parliamentary registration procedures on Monday. This may be linked to the movement's pledge that its lawmakers will only take the part of their parliamentary salary that is in line with the wage of an average Italian.

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