August 12, 2019 / 12:39 PM / 6 days ago

Italy parties meet as Salvini's election bid meets resistance

ROME, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Italian parties were due to meet on Monday to decide whether to reconvene parliament immediately, with signs that some are trying to thwart far right League leader Matteo Salvini's attempt to force a new election.

Salvini, now deputy prime minister in a year-old coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star party, declared last week the governing alliance had become unworkable and he wanted elections as soon as October.

He is betting his own surging popularity and ebbing support for 5-Star could deliver him an election victory. But the plan could backfire if other parties team up to oppose it, perhaps by luring 5-Star into forming a new coalition.

The League has filed a motion of no-confidence in the government with the Senate, and Salvini wants it to be voted on as soon as Tuesday. Parliament is in summer recess and he needs senators to agree to reconvene in order to consider it.

Party leaders in the Senate were due to meet from 1400 GMT. But it was not clear whether Salvini would get his way, with 5-Star and a key figure in the main opposition Democratic Party calling for a united front to deny him his tight timetable.

Luigi Di Maio, the 5-Star leader, arrived stern faced at parliament on Monday morning for talks with his own senators ahead of the meeting, declining to comment. He has accused Salvini of taking voters "for a ride".

Salvini, photographed at the weekend posing for shirtless selfies with supporters at the beach, has dominated Italian politics since forming a government with 5-Star. He has campaigned non-stop, promoting a "man-of the people" image and touting a popular clampdown on illegal immigration.

However, his shock move to sink the government and cash in on his popularity is not going smoothly. Some League voters have been dismayed by his decision to sink the government and have voiced dissent on social media. Salvini was booed and heckled during campaign stops in Sicily on Sunday.

PROTESTERS

On stage during a rally in Syracuse he became involved in a slanging match with protesters. He said those working to avoid an election were "afraid of the Italian people," before saying passionately he was ready to "give his life" for Italy.

"The sooner we vote, the sooner Italy gets moving. Who is afraid of elections?", he said in a statement on Monday, repeating the mantra he has used in the last few days.

The Senate party chiefs look unlikely to grant Salvini his request for the no-confidence vote to be held on Tuesday, with Aug. 20 seen as a more likely date. The upper house president said if no agreement were reached she may summon the full Senate on Tuesday to set a date.

Salvini's move to ditch the coalition raised the government's cost of borrowing and sparked a sell-off in shares. On Monday the spread between Italian benchmark bonds and safer German Bunds stood at 235 basis points, up three points on the day. It had hovered for weeks around 200-205 points before Salvini's decision on Thursday.

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who still wields strong influence over his centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said on Sunday going back to the polls just when the government is due to start preparations for the 2020 budget would be "crazy".

He called instead for a caretaker government to be installed with the support of parties across the political spectrum. However, the PD, now in the hands new leader Nicola Zingaretti, is divided on the issue.

In a reminder on Monday of tensions between the League and institutions outside Italy as well as at home, Salvini's main economics adviser said the party's financial plans would keep the budget deficit well above a target agreed with the EU.

Claudio Borghi said in an interview in La Stampa newspaper that the League would cut taxes by 10-15 billion euros, and would not implement a scheduled rise in sales tax next year, giving up another 23 billion euros ($25.74 billion).

Avoiding the sales tax hike alone will take the deficit to 2.8% of gross domestic product, he said, but he promised it would still stay below 3% thanks to savings elsewhere in the budget. Italy's current target for next year is 2.1%.

The European Commission has been at constant loggerheads with Rome since the government took office, urging it to do more to lower a public debt that is proportionally the highest in the euro zone after Greece's. ($1 = 0.8935 euros) (Additional reporting by Reuters TV and Isla Binnie)

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