ROME (AP) — The center-left leader tasked by Italy’s president to form a coalition government worked doggedly Thursday to find common ground among bitterly opposed political blocs, which have been mired in a post-election deadlock for two months.
After inconclusive elections in February, creating an effective government that can win a required vote of confidence in the heavily polarized Parliament is fraught with difficulty. Enrico Letta was chosen as premier-designate Wednesday in what could be a last-ditch effort to avoid a quick return to the polls.
Failing to form a government would further delay sorely needed economic and political reforms in a country where widespread corruption discourages investment, recession has devastated the job market and Italians are fed up with ever-higher taxes as the price for surviving the eurozone-debt crisis.
Letta, 46, a veteran lawmaker highly regarded by Italy’s politically influential pro-Vatican centrists, spent the day sounding out the leaders of all of Parliament’s forces to secure as much support as possible to boost prospects of creating a government agenda that would balance measures for both austerity and growth.
To succeed, the Democratic Party rising star will have to depend on a major coalition partner that is ideologically opposed. Vital support must come from the center-right forces of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, the former three-time premier who is intent on furthering his political comeback while protecting his business interests and himself in various criminal trials.
During a visit to the U.S., Berlusconi told reporters that any new government must support what was his campaign promises, including one to abolish a widely despised property tax, whose revenues played a role in helping to boost Italy’s financial worthiness.
But outgoing Premier Mario Monti, whose centrists are also being courted by Letta for the coalition he is attempting to forge, instituted the tax, and has said Berlusconi’s vow to refund the tax paid last year would seriously damage Italy’s still fragile finances.
Letta met with several political leaders Thursday, including Roberto Maroni, a Berlusconi ally whose Northern League forces won’t join the government.
“I found Enrico Letta neither optimistic nor pessimistic” about his prospects to form a government, Maroni told reporters. Instead, Letta was “very determined and concrete and aware that if its attempt fails, we go to early elections,” Maroni, who is Lombardy governor and based in Italian financial capital Milan, said.
The specter of more political uncertainty in Italy, the eurozone’s No. 3 economy, would risk spooking financial markets and worsening the European sovereign debt crisis.
Letta’s last scheduled round of consultations for the day was in early evening with Parliament’s third-largest bloc, the anti-establishment, grassroots 5 Star Movement, which made a stunningly successful first foray into national politics, galvanized by its leader, comic-turned-political agitator Beppe Grillo.
Letta’s publicly squabbling party splintered after it won control of the Chamber of Deputies, but not of the Senate. He hasn’t said when he might report back to President Giorgio Napolitano on whether he succeeded in nailing down a coalition. But Italian media said he was expected to do so by this weekend.
Not only must the premier-designate pull together polarized political forces to effectively govern — he also must simultaneously stop his own party’s implosion to ensure its lawmakers will close ranks on the government’s reform platform.
Representatives of several smaller parties said they saw scant chance for success by a “grand coalition” government.
“We don’t believe in cold fusion,” said Guido Crosetto, head of the tiny Italian Brothers party, a grouping of right-wing allies of Berlusconi. After meeting with Letta, he confirmed they wouldn’t join the government.
The Democratic Party’s election campaign partner, a left-wing party led by a southern governor, has broken with Letta’s forces over the decision to form a government with archrival Berlusconi’s party.