Italian politics in nutshell: How country ended up with ex-IMF chief it never voted for as its PM

Italy’s March elections were followed by months of negotiations, which ended with the president’s move to block the will of people and pick an ex-IMF director as the new interim PM. Let’s recap how it happened.

Improbable as it first seemed, a League-Five Star Movement coalition was formed nearly three months after the country voted. The elections of March 4 resulted in two winners – the center-right coalition led by the League that, collectively with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, won 37 percent; and the Five Star Movement, which won nearly 33 percent.

The unlikely allies had contrasting missions during their electoral campaigns. While the League vowed to staunchly fight to ease taxation and introduce new measures to deal with illegal migrants, the Movement gave an impression of leaning more to the left. Widely supported in the south of the country, Naples-native Di Maio was expected to deal with some of the most painful issues, such as unemployment and sloppy local government. With their missions framed differently, the two parties did not immediately begin talks.

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To up the ante in the elections, three-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi teamed up with the League’s Salvini and the Brothers of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, expecting to form a government based on their collective results.

However, this proposed alliance with Berlusconi, whose party got only 14 percent, was complicated for Salvini in the wake of the results. The leader of the League was reluctant to breach his accord with the former PM, which is why he initially ruled out any possibility of forming an alliance with Di Maio’s Movement.

On March 14, Salvini even expressed readiness to team up with any party so long as it was not the Democratic Party (PD). That, realistically, left out the Movement as his only prospect.

A month after the elections, Matteo Salvini made a decision to break the deadlock with Di Maio. In May, however, the Movement’s leader confronted Salvini with an ultimatum to either drop Silvio from his coalition or forget about the alliance. Unwillingly and with no intention of supporting Salvini any further, Berlusconi unchained him, letting the League and Di Maio continue talks without him.

In the meantime, the third round of consultations was just as fruitless as the first two. Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella had almost given up on any hope of forming a government and, on May 7, warned that he would form a “neutral” caretaker government or have fresh elections in July.

Both parties asked to be given more time, due to inconclusive talks on some of the key issues, and Matteo Salvini said on May 14 that it took Germany six months to do the same.

After just a few days, on May 18, the two Euroskeptic parties finally reached an agreement and outlined a joint policy program for what would be their coalition government.

More hopeful than ever that their efforts might pay off, on May 21, they proposed a legal scholar, Giuseppe Conte, as prime minister to lead their coalition and form the government.

Charged with this task, Conte, who was approved by President Mattarella, stumbled upon an unforeseen issue – his candidate for Minister of the Economy, Paolo Savona, was vehemently rejected over his allegedly Euroskeptic views, which Savona dismissed as false. He clarified that he had never proposed for Italy to abandon the EU or the euro as its currency, but he thought the union could be bettered.

The government that was almost ready to fulfil its stipulated promises, was dissolved in a whiplashing move on May 27. Mattarella explained his move as an attempt to protect the Italian people and their savings from imminent risk. That explanation, however, did not convince the allies who blamed the president for overstepping his constitutional bounds and jeopardizing democracy by blocking the will of people, which had been expressed during the elections.

Having dismissed the government in the making on Sunday, Mattarella wasted little time before he gave a new mandate to former International Monetary Fund official, Carlo Cottarelli, on Monday, May 28. The appointment of the pro-austerity and pro-EU economist, who is expected to form a new interim government until new elections are held, infuriated the allies from the League and the Movement.

In two Monday interviews, Salvini blasted the move as unconstitutional, while his coalition partner described it as the darkest day that democracy has ever known.

Salvini, Di Maio and Brothers of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni confirmed they had no sympathy for the new technocratic government that went against the people’s will. They indicated that they had no intention of backing the newly appointed Cottarelli in a vote of confidence. In a defiant mood, both allies vowed to proceed and “not give up,” promising to keep the accord and their coalition, possibly even in the upcoming elections.