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article imageItaly awaits PM nominee after populists unveil government programme

By Terry DALEY (AFP)     May 18, 2018 in World

Anti-establishment and far-right parties began haggling over who will be Italy's next prime minister after publishing a joint policy programme on Friday that brought the eurozone's third largest economy a step closer to a populist government.

The political deadlock brought about by March's inconclusive elections neared its end after the plan's unveiling by the Five Star Movement and the far-right League party.

The programme promises the end of post-crisis austerity measures and seeks deep change in relations with the European Union.

Five Star members have until Friday evening to vote online on whether to approve the programme, while the League will offer a vote to anyone who visits the party stands which are to be put up across the country over the weekend.

With voter approval little more than a formality, all eyes were on who the two parties would choose as their candidate for prime minister.

They needed to announce a name in time for a meeting on Monday with President Sergio Mattarella.

Mattarella must agree to the parties' nominee before they can seek parliament's approval for their nascent government.

Both Five Star leader Di Maio and Salvini have remained tight-lipped on the future prime minister as they hashed out their 58-page "Contract for the Government of Change".

Having said on Thursday evening that naming a PM would "not be a problem", on Friday Di Maio suggested that he could be one of the candidates.

"I don't know if I will end up being prime minister, but our real leader, the programme, will govern this country," Di Maio said in a Facebook message.

- No euro exit -

While an exit from the single currency -- mooted in leaked drafts of the document -- is no longer proposed, the document announced the parties' intention to review "with European partners the economic governance framework" of the EU, including the euro.

The parties want a monetary union that is "appropriate for the current geopolitical and economic imbalances and consistent with the objectives of the economic union", it said.

The document featured a number of manifesto promises from the League.

These included hardline immigration and security proposals, pension reform and a plan to have just two tax rates, of 15 and 20 percent.

The programme proposed that Italy and the EU implement bilateral agreements with other countries in order to speed up the repatriation of illegal immigrants.

The programme also pledged to close all "illegal" Roma camps, set up a register of imams and immediately shut down "radical Islamic associations".

- Berlusconi -

The proposals contained in the document have caused consternation at home and abroad.

The key worry is how Italy, the eurozone's second most debt-laden country, can fund the coalition's proposals, such as drastic tax cuts and a monthly basic income for some nine million people.

Some experts estimated the cost of the document's proposals at 100 billion euros.

The Grande Oriente freemasons lodge blasted as "fascist" and "unconstitutional" the parties' decision to ban any of their members from becoming a government minister.

Meanwhile on Friday former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi offered himself as the leader of a separate executive given "the lack of candidates with the qualities of trustworthiness, good sense and balance".

Berlusconi campaigned alongside Salvini before the election as part of a right-wing coalition.

The 81-year-old, recently ordered to stand trial for bribing witnesses in a sex scandal, said that he was "very worried" about the "sermonising" content of the programme.

It proposes that no-one convicted of corruption or being investigated for serious crimes can become a minister.

Conflict of interest criteria for parliamentarians would also be beefed up.

The media mogul, in the Aosta Valley with his Forza Italia party for Sunday's regional elections, said: "I'm available, and I don't think that there's any candidate comparable to Silvio Berlusconi".

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