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Napolitano takes pause for thought after govt talks

Renzi expected to get mandate Sunday or Monday

15 February, 20:48
Napolitano takes pause for thought after govt talks (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, February 15 - President Giorgio Napolitano on Saturday wrapped up talks with Italy's parties aimed at forming a new government after Friday's enforced resignation of Democratic Party (PD) premier Enrico Letta.

Letta was forced out of office by PD chief Matteo Renzi, who is expected to be given a mandate to try to become Italy's youngest premier at the age of 39.

He would be Italy's third straight unelected premier after Mario Monti and Letta.

Napolitano did not indicate when he would hand Renzi the mandate, saying only that the talks had been "intense" and he had pushed them to completion "at maximum speed" in just over a day in order to give the future premier-designate more "time and serenity" to prepare his team and agenda.

Renzi, nicknamed Demolition Man for his long-declared wish to 'junk' the old guard and overhaul Italy's political system, is expected to be tapped either Sunday or Monday.

Earlier, New Centre Right (NCD) leader Angelino Alfano said he wanted to see Renzi's plans and the make-up of his coalition before committing his key support to the touted premier-in-waiting.

The NCD will not back the PD leader if he brings in "leftists", Alfano said after talks with Napolitano. "There is good will on our part but the outcome is uncertain because we want to see clearly" what Renzi's agenda and alliance would be," said Alfano, who served as deputy premier and interior minister under Letta. "If the make-up of the coalition moves left with the arrival of other forces, we'll say no".

The NCD appears to think some members of the leftist Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party might join Renzi despite SEL leader Nichi Vendola, the governor of Puglia, saying earlier Saturday his party would oppose Renzi.

Alfano said he thought the effort to form a new government would take longer than expected. "If the programme is big there can be no haste: you cannot reach a deal in 48 hours," he said.

Reform Minister Gaetano Quagliariello, another NCD bigwig, said the party wanted a "German-style" governing pact.

Renzi, who effectively ousted party colleague Letta after a weak and fractious 10-month left-right government, first with Silvio Berlusconi and then with the breakaway NCD, would be unable to govern without Alfano's continued support.

The PD leader was in Florence Saturday night to watch the Serie A game between Fiorentina and Inter Milan Saturday night.

Earlier he met writer Alessandro Baricco, who denied being interested in the post of culture minister, and Andrea Guerra, CEO of eyewear giant Luxottica, tipped to become industry minister.

The PD chief is reportedly framing a raft of reforms that would amount to "shock therapy" for Italy's expensive and slow-moving political system and sputtering economy.

Letta resigned Friday after the PD backed Renzi's call for a new government to lift Italy out of a "morass" of stymied reforms and slow-moving efforts to combat record unemployment.

Renzi, who has been likened to a young Tony Blair, wants to introduce a new electoral law in place of one blamed for producing an inconclusive result last February that led to Letta's weak and unstable left-right administration.

Renzi has vowed to forge an executive built to last until the end of the parliamentary term in 2018.

Centre-right leader Berlusconi, meanwhile, told the president his Forza Italia (FI) party would remain in opposition but would continue to work with Renzi on long-awaited and much-needed institutional reforms.

"We are in opposition to this future government," Berlusconi said after his first meeting with Napolitano since he was ejected from parliament on a tax-fraud conviction at the end of November.

Berlusconi pulled his support from Letta's administration after his expulsion and the NCD kept Letta afloat until Renzi ignored the PD premier's pitch to lead a revamped reform programme and pulled the rug out from under him in what some said was a palace coup reminiscent of the revolving-door governments of old.

Berlusconi said he told Napolitano about FI's "amazement at this murky crisis triggered outside parliament and inside a single party". The three-time premier and media magnate added he hoped a Renzi-led government would try to steer the European Union away from austerity towards growth policies.

Meanwhile the PD denied reports it was negotiating with FI about the make-up of a Renzi administration.

It said, however, it would continue to work with FI on electoral and other reforms to favour stability and cut costs by stripping the Senate of its lawmaking status, scrapping provincial governments and handing some regional powers back to Rome, on the basis of a recent deal between Renzi and Berlusconi.

Berlusconi also said FI would respect the deal, which requires changes to the Italian Constitution.

Key parts of the current and widely reviled electoral law have been declared unconstitutional.

Renzi and Berlusconi agreed a new system where a coalition with 37% of the vote in the House would get a 15% winner's prize, ensuring an unassailable majority, and small parties' veto powers would be removed by setting new entry bars.

The planned new law goes before the House next week.

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