Italy’s president dissolves parliament ahead of March election

Prime minister issues warning that parties must not ‘dramatise the risk of instability’

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni: said Italy was “back on track” after the worst economic crisis in the postwar period. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni: said Italy was “back on track” after the worst economic crisis in the postwar period. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

 

Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella on Thursday dissolved parliament ahead of an election which is expected to produce a period of instability in the euro zone’s third largest economy.

Prime minister Paolo Gentiloni’s cabinet began meeting to fix the date of the vote, which a government source indicated will take place on March 4th, 2018.

The outgoing cabinet set the date at a meeting held after President Sergio Mattarella formally dissolved parliament earlier.

Earlier in the day Mr Gentiloni defended the record of his year-old government and said he would remain in office and ensure continuity until a new government is in place.

With opinion polls pointing to a hung parliament, he told reporters Italy should be prepared to deal with instability but should not fear it, noting that it was now common to many European countries.

“We mustn’t dramatise the risk of instability, we are quite inoculated against it,” he said, in reference to Italy’s frequent changes of government. He added that elsewhere in Europe there has been “an Italianisation of political systems”.

The country’s main parties are promising to raise the budget deficit and slash taxes despite record-high public debt. And immigration is set to be a central theme of the election, with right-wing parties warning of a migrant “invasion”.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement leads opinion polls with about 28 per cent of the vote, followed by the ruling Democratic Party (PD), of which Mr Gentiloni is a member, on about 23 per cent.

‘Fears and illusions’

However, most seats in parliament are seen going to a conservative alliance made up of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) on about 16 per cent and the right-wing Northern League and Brothers of Italy, with 13 and 5 per cent respectively.

Mr Gentiloni appealed to political parties not to spread fear and make unrealistic promises in the “imminent” election campaign.

“I think it is in the interests of the country to have an election campaign that limits as much as possible the spreading of fears and illusions, these are the risks we have before us,” he said.

Although Italy has returned to economic growth, the recovery has been sluggish and many Italians have yet to see any tangible improvement. Meanwhile, the country has had to cope with a large influx of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. Both factors have led to a sharp drop in the PD’s poll numbers, and fuelled populist opposition parties ahead of the election.

Five Star, which polls suggest is likely to emerge from the election in first place, had previously ruled out any alliances with other parties. However, Luigi Di Maio, its candidate for prime minister, said last week he would be willing to entertain deals with other parties in order to form a government.

– (Agencies)