Rome

Letta talks to Pdl, M5S in govt-formation bid

Berlusconi party 'constructive', Grillo movement won't cooperate

Letta talks to Pdl, M5S in govt-formation bid

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 25 - Centre-left Democratic Party (PD) deputy head Enrico Letta on Thursday urged Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party and comedian Beppe Grillo anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to help him form a government to enact much-needed reforms. PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano voiced cautious optimism, saying several parts of a possible deal with the PD still needed to be resolved. But M5S flatly refused to drop its refusal to deal with either. With his own deeply divided PD remaining silent, Letta pled for agreement on changes including a new electoral law "unless we want the legislature to end in general ridicule". Alfano appeared to meet him half-way, amid continuing disagreements about sharing out ministerial posts between the two main parties and, more crucially, on the PdL's eight-point platform. The PdL secretary said his party was "satisfied" after the talks, to which many in the PD have given only grudging assent. He said they were "conducted in a constructive spirit". Letta confirmed this and said he had had an "encouraging" phone conversation with Berlusconi, who is coming back from the United States Saturday. Alfano stressed, above all, that meeting an election pledge to repay an unpopular property tax called IMU would be an essential part of any cross-party agenda. Three-time premier Berlusconi has proposed an eight-point platform, including the IMU rebate, which are "essential to our participation in the government" to end two months of post-election stalemate, Alfano said. It was "unimaginable" to think the PdL would team up with the PD without (the) IMU (rebate)," which tops the party's platform, the PdL secretary said. The eight-point platform is: 1) Scrapping IMU on primary residences and giving back what Italians paid in 2012. 2) Cutting powers of tax-collecting agency Equitalia to seize money or impound property in lieu of unpaid taxes. 3) Tax breaks for firms that hire young people. 4) Cutting red tape on businesses. 5) Abolishing party funding. 6) Tax reform. 7) Direct election of the Italian president by the people, not parliament. 8) Justice reform. The PD, which won a majority in the House but not the equally powerful Senate in February elections, issued its own 8-point platform during earlier and fruitless efforts to tempt comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement into a 'government of change'. None of its points coincides with the PdL's and some go in the opposite direction, such as a conflict-of-interest law that would force Berlusconi to choose between his media empire or politics and a corruption law that would reinstate big penalties, eased by Berlusconi, for accountancy fraud. The only common area is on the economy, where the PD wants to boost growth and create jobs after 18 months of austerity. Letta's horse-trading comes after two months of post-election stalemate that culminated in Napolitano using unusually strong language Monday to warn parties to put aside their differences and form a government to tackle the economic crisis and pass widely discussed and much-needed reforms, threatening to quit if they don't. The PD narrowly beat the PdL in the popular vote in both Houses, on about 30%, with M5S getting about 25%. After his meeting with Alfano, Letta held talks with M5S, pleading with them to drop their boycott of the traditional parties. The PD deputy head urged M5S whips to stop saying No to other parties to make it easier for him to form a coalition as broad as possible. He told the whips that if their "incommunicability" continued it would become "increasingly frustrating". But M5S Senate Whip Vito Crimi rejected Letta's plea, saying they saw no sign of "real change". Crimi said M5S wanted an "impartial" government, not one which is likely to include members of the PD and PdL. Swept into parliament by a tsunami-like protest vote, M5S holds the balance of power in the Senate with 25% of the vote, 5% less than both the PD and PdL. It shuns the PdL and PD, saying they are equal culprits in a corrupt and dysfunctional system. The PdL is now riding higher in polls because of Berlusconi's supposedly statesmanlike insistence since the election on the need for a coalition government, while M5S has slipped because of its refusal to co-operate and the PD is sliding after the failure of two presidential candidates exposed deep rifts and forced it to beg Napolitano to stand again. M5S told Letta Italy must reform its "demented" electoral law - a move that all parties back - while Letta urged them to back that and other Constitutional reforms because "we can't want to end the legislature Letta said he would provide "heat to unfreeze the situation" and stressed: "If everyone sticks to their positions, the voters will take it out on us". Letta would like to have ministers sworn in at the weekend so parliament can hold confidence votes early next week, Italian media reports. If Letta's efforts towards a solid reform government fail, the country would probably have a caretaker administration to steer Italy towards June elections, the media say.

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