Trump weighs in as Italians toil to form a new government

World

Democratic Party whips Graziano Delrio, left, and Andrea Marcucci leave the headquarters of the party to meet the 5-Star Movement delegation on government talks, in Rome, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. (Fabio Frustaci/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — While Italians don’t know if they’ll soon have a new government, let alone who might lead it, U.S. President Donald Trump cast his vote Tuesday for caretaker Premier Giuseppe Conte.

A day after the two finished attending the G-7 summit in France, Trump tweeted that he hoped Conte would “remain” as premier because he is a “talented” leader who works well with the United States.

The tweet triggered a cascade of comments by Italians amused that Trump initially had misspelledConte’s first name as “Giuseppi,” before it was corrected in a subsequent tweet.

Conte quit as premier on Aug. 20 after nationalist leader Matteo Salvini yanked his right-wing League party’s support from the populist coalition that has been governing the country with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement since June 2018.

Since the collapse, the opposition Democrats and the 5-Star Movement have been scrambling to see if they could overcome ideological differences and co-exist in a viable coalition.

Negotiations appeared likely to drag on right up till late Wednesday afternoon. That’s when both parties must report on their progress to President Sergio Mattarella.

If he’s not convinced a new coalition — again headed by Conte or by someone else — can command a dependable majority in Parliament, he’ll send the legislature packing and set elections for this fall.

The center-left Democrats are staunch backers of the European Union and promote infrastructure projects aimed at helping revive Italy’s stagnant economy. The Movement is euro-skeptic, suspicious of big business and opposes, on environmental grounds, completion of a high-speed rail project involving France and Italy that even Conte has said must continue.

Now, the opposite forces are attracting out of a determination to keep Salvini and his nationalist League party out of power.

Salvini has soared in popularity due to his anti-migrant stance while serving as hard-line interior minister in Conte’s just-collapsed coalition. He’s pressing for elections for Parliament 3 ½ years ahead of schedule.

But opinion polls show Conte is also very popular in the country.

A lawyer specializing in mediation, Conte is officially non-partisan. But he was strongly backed in the coalition by the Movement, which considers itself an expression of a grassroots democracy where citizens express their will on the internet.

Marathon negotiations, which lasted into early Tuesday, failed to yield agreement on who’d be premier and what a new coalition could achieve.

Whoever governs will have to make billions of euros worth of spending cuts to avoid triggering sales tax hikes and other painful measures for the country next year.

Both sides have been publicly vague. “We worked in a good atmosphere, tomorrow we’ll continue,” top 5-Star lawmaker Stefano Patuanelli told reporters after Movement and Democratic Party delegations met for several hours on Tuesday.

Emma Bonino, who heads a tiny pro-EU party, expressed frustration there were no details on what new government might be taking shape.

“I wouldn’t buy a dress on sale in a box I couldn’t open, let alone support a government” without knowing what it will do for the country, Bonino said after giving Mattarella her assessment.

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