Enrico Letta handed government mandate from Napolitano

PD deputy secretary to try to form left-right administration

Enrico Letta handed government mandate from Napolitano

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, April 24 - Enrico Letta, the deputy secretary of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), was given a mandate to form a new government from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday. Napolitano wants Letta, 46, to be the premier of a government that has wide cross-party backing to end two months of political deadlock after February's inconclusive general election, with problems piling up for the recession-hit nation. Letta accepted the mandate with "reservation" ahead of talks with other parties. If the 46-year-old former minister thinks he has sufficient support, he is likely to put a government up for votes of confidence in the Upper and Lower House later this week so it can then be sworn in. "The road has opened to the formation of the government that the country urgently needs and has waited too long for," said Napolitano. "This is the only option possible, a broad agreement between the political parties that can guarantee a majority". The head of State, who reluctantly agreed be to re-elected Saturday after Italy's squabbling parties failed to agree on a successor to him, chose a centre-left candidate as the PD is the biggest party in parliament. However, the party is also ravaged by rifts, as seen by Pier Luigi Bersani quitting as PD chief at the weekend after two candidates he proposed for president were scuppered by rebels within its ranks. Ex-premier Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party and outgoing Premier Mario Monti's Civic Choice party have said they will back a broad coalition government. But the PDL has warned it will not back a Letta administration unless the PD gets firmly behind a joint left-right executive, which Bersani always opposed and is abhorrent to many on the centre-left. "We won't give our support to one of them (Letta) if they don't get real, visible support (from the PD)," said PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano. "If it's a question of having any little government that risks being short-lived, they can do what they want, but we won't be part of it". The PD's whips in the House and Senate both said a Letta government would have "convinced" support of the whole party. The government should work on the based of a programme Napolitano recently asked a group of experts, dubbed the 10 wise men, to to pass key reforms, including a new electoral law to replace the one that did not deliver a winner in February. The administration is likely to include institutional figures and PD, PdL and Civic Choice politicians, unlike Monti's emergency government, which is made up of unelected technocrats. The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) has said it is against this sort of coalition government and so is the left-wing SEL party, which was allied with the PD in February's election. After February's election Napolitano first gave a mandate to Bersani to try to form a government after the coalition he had led came first in February but did not win a working majority in the Senate. But he ruled out forming a grand coalition with the PdL party and failed in a bid to reach out to the M5S, which won about a quarter of the vote, leaving the country in a situation of gridlock. Napolitano said the parties had behaved irresponsibly and has threatened to quit if they refuse to form a stable government this time. "If I find myself once again facing the kind of deafness I ran into in the past, I will not hesitate to draw the consequences," Napolitano said after being sworn in for the second time on Monday. There was speculation Napolitano wanted to give the mandate to another senior centre-left figure, two-time premier Giuliano Amato, but opted not to because of fears parts of the PD would rebel in a confidence vote in parliament on an administration led by the 74-year-old. Amato, who has a much higher international profile than Letta, is associated with a discredited part of the old political class by some people. Letta, the nephew of centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi's long-time chief of staff Gianni Letta, is a moderate and is seen as having more support from the so-called young Turks in the party. But he is also considered close to Bersani and is not the ideal candidate for some PD MPs. Rosy Bindi, who quit as PD president at the weekend, has said she was opposed to Letta being premier and to the PD being part of a broad coalition government. Letta served as European affairs minister and industry minister in Massimo D'Alema's 1998-2001 centre-left government. He was cabinet undersecretary in Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 government. It is not yet clear whether the Northern League will back a Letta administration after saying it would never back a government led by Amato, who had two short stints as premier between 1992 and 1993 and 2000 and 2001.

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