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Italy: PM-designate gives up bid to form populist government

Giuseppe Conte abandons his mandate to form a new government after meeting with President Sergio Mattarella.

Giuseppe Conte

Giuseppe Conte, Italy's prime minister-designate, has abandoned his mandate to form a new government, the presidential palace has said.

The announcement on Sunday came after a meeting between Conte and Italian President Sergio Mattarella to discuss a proposed list of cabinet members, in what would have been Italy's first populist government.

Conte's attempt at forming a government broke down after Mattarella rejected the Eurosceptic candidacy of Paolo Savona for the post of minister of economy. 

Conte told reporters he "gave the maximum effort, attention, to carry out his task with the full collaboration" of Five Star Movement and League political parties. 

The move could open the way for renewed elections. 

Later on Sunday, the Italian president's office announced Mattarella had summoned Carlo Cottarelli for talks on Monday, signalling the former senior director at the International Monetary Fund might be asked to head a technocrat government.  

Inconclusive elections

Conte, a 53-year-old law professor, was given his mandate by Mattarella on Wednesday, 80 days after Italy held inconclusive elections. 

He had been put forward by Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini, the leaders of would-be coalition partners Five Star Movement and League, who after months of political deadlock agreed on a government programme earlier this month. 

The populist Five Star Movement came out as the single largest party in Italy's March elections, capturing nearly a third of the vote. The far-right League was the biggest party in a right-wing coalition which as a bloc captured about 37 percent of seats in Italy's two houses of parliament.  

Mattarella, who constitutionally must approve of cabinet picks, blocked Savona as incoming economy minister. He cited concerns that Savona might have pushed Italy out of the Eurozone and his appointment might have alarmed markets.

On Friday, ratings agency Moody's had threatened to downgrade Italy's debt rating, citing a risk that the new government might fail to reduce its public debt.

On Sunday evening, Mattarella said he should not be blamed, adding that he had proposed alternatives for the post. 

Shortly before Conte's bid broke down, League's Salvini said the would-be coalition partners should be able to name the ministers they wanted.

"In a democracy, if we are still in a democracy, there's only one thing to do: let the Italians have their say," he said. 

Di Maio, the Five Star Movement leader, called Mattarella's rejection of Savona "unacceptable". 

"What's the point of going to vote if it's the ratings agencies that decide?" he said. 


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