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16th Nov 2018

Italy to hold elections on 4 March

  • Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (c) is back in Italian politics, although he cannot become prime minister unless a tax fraud conviction is overturned (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Italy will go to the polls on 4 March, the government decided on Thursday (28 December), after the Italian president dissolved parliament.

The elections could mean the end for Paolo Gentiloni's run as prime minister, and a possible return to the centre of power for Silvio Berlusconi.

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  • Gentiloni (r) could stay on as caretaker prime minister if the March elections produce a hung parliament (Photo: elysee.fr)

The centre-left has been in power in Italy since 2013 and suffered electoral setbacks elsewhere in Europe.

The elections could also result in a period of uncertainty, if polls predicting the outcome come true.

None of the parties or traditional coalitions would win a majority, if current polls are accurate.

If coalition talks stall, it could mean that the current cabinet of Gentiloni would be required to continue as caretaker government.

That would see Gentiloni representing his country as a lame duck prime minister at the 22-23 March EU summit in Brussels for example, when trade, defence, the single market, and digital issues like taxation of the digital economy are on the agenda.

But outgoing prime minister Gentiloni said on Thursday that Italy could handle a period of uncertainty.

"We mustn't dramatise the risk of instability, we are quite inoculated against it," he told reporters.

Since World War II, the largest eurozone country after Germany and France has seen frequent changes of government.

The centre-left government in power since the previous elections in 2013 has seen already three prime ministers.

Before Gentiloni, it was led by Matteo Renzi, who in turn had dethroned Enrico Letta.

In March, it will be Renzi who will vie to become prime minister again on behalf of the Democratic Party.

But polls indicated tough competition.

One party doing well is the Five Star Movement, a populist party which in the European Parliament sits with the eurosceptic Ukip, although it often behaves more constructively on topics such as the environment.

The anti-establishment party, led by Luigi Di Maio, has previously promised a referendum on Italy's eurozone membership.

Last Summer though, Five Star Movement member Carla Ruocco told Reuters that a euro referendum was a plan B and "a negotiating tool".

"Big investors and markets should be able to distinguish it from the real intentions of a 5-Star government on the subject of the euro," she said.

The other party doing well in the polls is the centre-right Forza Italia, led by former prime minister Berlusconi.

The 81-year old billionaire said on Thursday that if in power, Forza Italia would provide a monthly €1,000 basic income to the 9 million poorest Italians.

"Nobody can live well, even if they are well off, knowing that around us there are millions of Italians who have to live on public assistance or private charity," said Berlusconi, who himself would not be able to become prime minister due to a conviction for tax fraud.

The plan was immediately criticised by Renzi, asking how it would be paid - "with Monopoly money?"

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