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article imageBattle over speakers as Italian parties seek parliamentary deal

By Terry DALEY (AFP)     Mar 23, 2018 in World

Italy's parliament was left in limbo on Friday with no victor yet in the battle for speaker in both houses of parliament, a move that would lay the ground for the next fight over who will lead a new government.

As expected the newly-elected lower house Chamber of Deputies and upper house Senate failed to elect their new speakers on the first day of voting, leaving the country guessing who will take up the roles.

At the end of two rounds of voting, tensions also began to emerge within the leading right-wing coalition, after its leader was accused of "hostility" by putting forward a surprise candidate.

The vote is important because until both speakers are chosen consultations between Italian President Sergio Mattarella and those competing to form a new government cannot begin.

The right-wing alliance which gained the most votes in the March 4 election with 37 percent and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5s) which garnered 33 percent are vying for the chance to lead the country.

The two sides had been working on a deal that would let the right have the Senate speaker and see M5S take the Chamber, a prelude to potential power-sharing talks between the two.

The right-wing coalition had been fielding Paolo Romani, the economy minister in Silvio Berlusconi's last government and a member of the media mogul's Forza Italia party, for the post of Senate speaker.

However, Luigi Di Maio's M5S, Italy's largest single party, said it could not vote for Romani due to his 2014 conviction for embezzlement for which he was given a suspended 16-month sentence that was confirmed on appeal in October.

- Blank ballots -

Five Stars Movement  leader Luigi Di Maio said the party would return blank votes
Five Stars Movement leader Luigi Di Maio said the party would return blank votes
Tiziana FABI, AFP/File

The centre-left Democratic Party (PD), whose coalition came third i with 23 percent, has refused to form an alliance with either of the two top groups in the polls.

In total 592 blank ballots were returned in the Chamber's first round of voting by 630 MPs, while 312 of the 317 ballots cast in the Senate's first round were left blank.

The M5S's rejection of Romani has infuriated Berlusconi, who has demanded a meeting with Di Maio.

But in the second round of voting on Friday night cracks began to emerge within the right-wing coalition, when Matteo Salvini's League made the surprise move of backing a Forzia Italia candidate in the Senate -- without consulting ally Berlusconi.

Save for the League's 57 votes for Anna Maria Bernini, the rest of the ballots were returned blank.

Berlusconi labelled the move an "act of hostility" designed to fracture the coalition and push the League closer to M5S.

- Warm up -

The negotiations over speakers are a warm up for talks to form a government, with the M5S and the right saying they are ready to work with any party that would be willing to adopt their programme.

The selection of the Senate speaker is relatively straightforward, with the winning candidate being chosen after a maximum of four rounds of voting over the weekend.

If no-one achieves an absolute majority by the third round, the two most popular candidates of the third ballot will face a run-off.

The vote for the Chamber speaker is more complicated with no limit to the number of ballots that can be held before a candidate is elected and no one group close to a majority.

If the aspiring speaker fails to earn a two-thirds majority vote from 630 MPs, the quorum will progressively lower until the fourth round, when a simple majority of voting MPs is needed.

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