Italy’s foreign minister Gentiloni has been asked to form a government

Italy’s president Mattarella yesterday nominated the current foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, as the prime minister of an interim government. He is due to form a government over the next few days, in order to assume the official duties of the acting prime minister Renzi. The government must also submit to a vote of confidence in parliament. However, the voting majority held by the current government coalition – consisting of the social democrats and two smaller centre-right parties – is likely to confirm Gentiloni and his cabinet, since his appointment was coordinated between the leadership of the coalition parties and the president.

The option of a government of experts – which was also previously discussed as a possibility – would especially have made sense from Renzi’s point of view. Since the former prime minister will remain the chairman of the PD and such a government would mainly depend on the PD’s votes in parliament, Renzi would have been able to control it politically and also possibly bring about its end. Ultimately, the option of a government of experts failed due to the opposition, which refused to support the PD in overcoming the political uncertainty. The key question will now be for how long the new government can remain in office. Here views also differ considerably and not only along party lines. The Five Star Movement and Renzi himself favour new elections as soon as possible. The populists are seeking to achieve a change of government and are hopeful due to their currently favourable poll ratings. On the other hand, Renzi fears that the longer the delay until fresh elections, the greater his difficulty in returning to the position of prime minister. By virtue of his office, Mattarella’s interest lies in the country’s political stability, which would by no means be guaranteed in case of new elections and the possible victory of the Five Star Movement. However, other key figures in the PD likewise oppose the idea of rapid new elections, since they are concerned about the prospect for their party’s participation in government and are not focusing on Renzi’s political future.

Regardless of the political hurdles impeding new elections, there are also legal obstacles to deal with. President Mattarella has recently made clear that the different statutory arrangements regulating elections to parliament and the senate need to be brought into line before any new elections. Due to the failure of constitutional reform, the senate continues to be elected on the basis of simple proportional representation, while in the parliamentary elections the strongest parliamentary party is awarded a bonus which automatically provides it with a majority of the seats. Moreover, from 24 January the Italian constitutional court will review whether the electoral law for the parliament is compatible with the Italian constitution. Depending on the court’s ruling it may be necessary to amend this law, in order to pave the way for new elections.

Due to the legal hurdles, fresh elections should be expected in the second quarter of the coming year at the earliest. However, it is by no means clear whether new elections will actually be held as early as possible. The PD is likely to monitor the election polls trend particularly carefully and whether the new prime minister succeeds in office. A further area of focus will likely be how well the troika consisting of the prime minister, the finance minister and the chairman of the PD cooperate in resolving the problems affecting parts of the banking sector.

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