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Italy politicians thrash out plans for post-crisis leader

By Antonella Cinelli and Isla Binnie
| ROME

ROME Political parties made their cases to Italy’s president on Saturday for ways out of a government crisis prompted by Matteo Renzi’s resignation as prime minister following his defeat in a referendum on constitutional reform.

Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) was planning to use a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella later in the day to argue that Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, 62, should lead the new government, four party sources told Reuters.

If he gets the nod, Gentiloni could take office next week and would face an immediate crisis in the banking sector, with the country’s third-largest lender, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, likely to need state intervention to avoid collapse.

Mattarella, a 75-year-old former constitutional court judge, must decide if someone can lead the country to national elections scheduled for 2018, or whether the next government will serve only until early elections in spring.

Italians rejected Renzi’s constitutional reform in a popular vote on Dec. 4, leading the 41 year-old to fulfil a pledge to resign as premier.

Mattarella started consulting smaller parliamentary groups on Thursday, and received bigger parties on Saturday, gearing up to finish with the PD, whose backing would be vital for any candidate as it holds a majority in both houses.

Silvio Berlusconi, a four-times prime minister who leads the centre-right Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party, called for elections as soon as possible.

“The difficult economic situation, continued high unemployment, internal and external threats to security, and difficult relations with Europe do not allow delays,” Berlusconi said after meeting Mattarella, adding he would not support a cross-party coalition.

He said a new electoral law needed to be put in place quickly, to replace one that only applies to the lower house and that could be declared illegitimate in January by the Constitutional Court.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, head of a small centre-right group, said his party would support a new mandate for Renzi, although a parliamentary source said last week the PD leader had ruled out returning to office.

Gentiloni is seen as a Renzi loyalist who would be unlikely to set his own, independent course. Three PD lawmakers said Renzi wanted Gentiloni to oversee the writing of a new electoral law while the centre-left would hold primaries to decide who would lead the bloc into Spring elections.

Mattarella is due to consult later on Saturday with the anti-system 5-Star Movement (M5S), which polls a close second to the PD. M5S and the anti-immigrant Northern League, which visited Mattarella on Friday, have called for an immediate vote.

One PD source said an election would likely be held in June.

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer and Giselda Vagnoni,; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Hugh Lawson)

-Reuters