ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Mario Draghi's government on Wednesday staved off the immediate prospect of an early election after a key ally indicated he would remain in the coalition for now.
Draghi met with former Premier Giuseppe Conte, now the leader of the populist 5-Star Movement, for more than an hour.
Draghi, whose coalition partners range from the left to the right of the political spectrum in addition to the populists, has said publicly that his government couldn't continue without the support of the 5-Stars.
Conte is caught between the loyalty to the coalition and pressures from the increasingly restless base of his party.
"We spoke with Draghi, we delivered a document in the name of the 5-Stars, we have tallied up a strong political discomfort" over government policy, Conte told reporters.
Conte said that Draghi will “take time to review our requests." Those include more generous financial relief for families and businesses slammed by high energy costs and guarantees of continued funding of a guaranteed monthly salary to those unable to find work — a pledge which helped the 5-Stars sweep parliamentary seats in the underdeveloped south in 2018.
Draghi issued no immediate assessment of their talks.
"I wasn't expecting an immediate response — that wouldn't even be serious,'' Conte said.
But Italian media indicated more meetings between the two men will be held — a further indication that for now, Conte hasn't decided to bolt.
"We're willing to share a responsibility of governing as we have done up to now, I stress, in a loyal and construction manner, but what's needed is a strong signal of a break" with policies so far, Conte said.
Irritating some fellow leaders of the 5-Stars has been Draghi’s decision to send more military aid to Ukraine to defend itself from the Russian invasion. Ultimately, populist lawmakers did vote for its passage.
Conte is a mediation lawyer who got drafted by the 5-Stars as their choice for the premiership after the Movement triumphed in the last parliamentary elections in 2018, becoming the legislature's largest single political force.
But the party's fortunes have been unraveling since then — among lawmakers, among the public in opinion polls and among voters, who have trounced them in regional and mayoral elections in the last few years.
Dozens of Movement lawmakers have left their party to join other forces in Parliament, be independents or in the recent case of Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, the highest-ranking 5-Star in Draghi's Cabinet, defect to form their own political entity.
Di Maio contended that the 5-Stars have been less than stalwart backers of Italy's pro-NATO stance.
Conte led two governments before concerns arose that he wouldn’t be authoritative enough to guide Italy through the rest of the pandemic and crucially through its economic recovery.
Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, then was tapped by Italy’s president to forge a unity coalition out of the country’s chronically squabbling parties.