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Italy's rival political parties vow to unite against Salvini

Two Italian political parties agreed Wednesday to try to form a new coalition government, putting aside past rivalry to forestall an election that could put right-wing nationalist Matteo Salvini in power as premier.

President must first decide if alliance can spark viable majority in parliament

Italy's League party Leader Matteo Salvini talks to journalists after meeting with President Sergio Mattarella at Rome's Quirinale presidential palace on Wednesday. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

Two Italian political parties agreed Wednesday to try to form a new coalition government, putting aside past rivalry to forestall an election that could put right-wing nationalist Matteo Salvini in power as premier.

Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the populist Five-Star Movement, said he had informed Italy's president of his party's potential partnership with the Opposition Democratic Party that would see Giuseppe Conte return as prime minister.

Many analysts have said a government made up of such bitter political foes wasn't likely to last long, in all probability only delaying the election Salvini wants to snag the premiership for himself.

Conte resigned a week ago after Salvini's League party, the Five-Star Movement's previous governing partner, bolted from their long-squabbling coalition. Di Maio said he told the president the Movement's deal with the Democrats called for "Conte to again be premier and try to form a new government."

Referring to a tweet on Tuesday by U.S. President Donald Trump that praised Conte, Di Maio said, "Trump's endorsement yesterday shows that we're on the right path."

Italian President Sergio Mattarella must decide if an alliance between the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the centre-left Democrats can produce a viable majority in parliament, where Conte would have to win a vote of confidence in both chambers to again be premier.

Could call fall election

Di Maio brushed off skeptics who have questioned how the Five-Star Movement could agree to partner with a right-wing party last year and one on the left now.

The Movement is "post-ideological," Di Maio said. "There no longer exist arrangements on the left and the right, but only solutions."

If Mattarella isn't convinced Conte can lead a productive government with staying power, he can call a fall election.

The presidential palace said Conte has been asked to come speak with Mattarella on Thursday morning.

Salvini scorned the prospect of a Democratic-Five-Star coalition, saying it wouldn't hold up because "the only glue is hatred of the League."

Echoing what many analysts have said, Salvini predicted a short life for any government Conte manages to cobble together. He predicted that a national election would come "in six months, a year" and result in the League's triumph.

Earlier Wednesday, the leader of the Democratic Party described acquiescing to Five-Star Movement demands for another Conte premiership as being in Italy's best interests to keep the League out of the government.

We intend to put an end to the season of hate, rancour and fear.- Nicola Zingaretti, Democratic Party leader

Party leader Nicola Zingaretti told reporters that he informed the president that because the Five-Star is the biggest party in parliament, the Democrats would back the movement's choice for premier.

"We love Italy and we believe that it's worthwhile to try this new experience," Zingaretti said. "In complicated times like those of today, to avoid the responsibility of having the courage to try is something we cannot and do not want to allow."

In an apparent reference to Salvini, who as interior minister cracked down on immigration and along with other League leaders accused migrants of fuelling crime, Zingaretti added, "We intend to put an end to the season of hate, rancour and fear."

Zingaretti had originally insisted that the wisest course is to put the choice for the next government in the hands of voters. But a powerful party faction led by former premier Matteo Renzi has lobbied vigorously for a coalition deal with the Five-Star Movement.

Little has been revealed on how the pro-European Union Democrats would govern in a coalition with the Five-Stars, who resent EU influence on national policies. The Democrats sharply criticized the anti-migrant line of Conte's government that is championed by Salvini.

Conte is a lawyer who, while officially non-partisan, has been openly sympathetic with the Five-Stars. The Movement championed him to head Italy's first all-populist government, in coalition with another unnatural ally, Salvini's League, in June 2018.

Giuseppe Conte, right, who resigned as Italy's premier last week. A potential coalition between the populist Five-Star Movement and the Democratic Party could see Conte return to the role. (Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press)

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