Political novice tapped to be Italy's next prime minister

Italy's populist parties have tapped a political unknown to become prime minister and lead a new coalition government...

Posted: May 22, 2018 3:01 AM
Updated: May 22, 2018 3:01 AM

Italy's populist parties have tapped a political unknown to become prime minister and lead a new coalition government.

Giuseppe Conte, a law professor with no political experience, emerged as the frontrunner on Monday as Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, the League leader, met separately with President Sergio Mattarella at Quirinal Palace in Rome.

"We can announce that today we are facing a historical moment. We have indicated the name of Giuseppe Conte to the President of the Republic," Di Maio wrote in a post on the party's official blog. "It is a person that can carry out the 'government contract'. I am particularly proud of this choice."

Salvini also mentioned Conte as the name he presented to the President in a Facebook live post.

If Mattarella decides to give Conte a mandate to form a new government, Conte would have several days to appoint his cabinet and seek approval from Parliament.

Negotiations have been underway since the country went to the polls in March, which saw the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) win the most votes.

Di Maio and Salvini, the 45-year-old head of the League, have been locked in coalition talks after alliances with mainstream parties did not materialize.

Eleven weeks on from election day, the populists have ditched some of their most incendiary campaign vows, such as calling for a referendum on whether Italy should abandon the euro or leave the European Union.

Now, they are promising a spending and tax-cutting binge that has rattled investors and could contain the seeds of a new European crisis.

The Milan stock index slumped last week, compared to a small gain in the wider European market, with banking stocks pulling the index down. Italian government bond prices have also fallen, indicating concern about the heavily indebted country's commitment to fiscal discipline.

Mattarella gets the final say

Mattarella's office has yet to comment on the populist parties' nominee.

One concern, however, is that the two parties are so far apart ideologically that the government could quickly collapse.

Waiting in the wings is the former prime minister, 81-year-old billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, who orchestrated an alliance of right-wing parties for the March election.

He was forbidden from running for political office himself because of a conviction for tax fraud, but earlier in May the Court of Milan granted Berlusconi "rehabilitation."

A populist government in Rome could make it more difficult for European Union leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to push further EU political and economic integration.

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