ROME — Italy's president on Monday allowed an extra day for coalition negotiations, interpreted by some as a hopeful sign that a deal may be in the works weeks after the government collapsed.
Sergio Mattarella was scheduled to meet leaders of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) on Tuesday for feedback on their efforts to find a workable coalition agreement.
On Monday, he extended the cutoff for negotiations to Wednesday. Mattarella is hoping the parties will agree on a coalition formula that would allow Italy to avoid fresh elections less than two years since the last polls.
Vigorous negotiations continued between the two sides on Monday, with the key sticking points agreeing on a prime minister and on ministers in a new government.
The M5S wants to reappoint outgoing premier Giuseppe Conte, while the PD is calling for a complete shake-up of the cabinet.
PD leader Nicola Zingaretti voiced optimism after meeting M5S chief Luigi Di Maio on Monday.
"I am optimistic we can reach an accord, we are in the right direction. Forming a government is a serious thing," he said.
Another meeting on the subject on Conte got under way in the evening, and was expected to go late into the night.
Zingaretti has in the past criticised Conte for having accepted the anti-migrant dictates of Matteo Salvini, the hardline interior minister.
Salvini triggered the current crisis on August 8 when he withdrew his far-right League party from the coalition with M5S. It also led to Conte's resignation, although Mattarella has asked him to stay on as caretaker prime minister until the crisis is resolved.
Since then, with polls showing the League losing voter support, Salvini has accepted that new elections may not be held and has criticised the potential PD-M5S alliance.
"We can escape elections for a month, or a year, but the people's judgement will come sooner or later," Salvini told reporters on Monday.
A poll by the Tecne Institute last week put the League at 31.3 per cent -- down from a record 38 per cent before leaving the coalition -- with the PD at 24.6 per cent and M5S on 20.8 per cent.
Meanwhile, Italy's 78-year-old president discussed the situation by telephone on Monday with his predecessor Giorgio Napolitano, 94, before meeting the leaders of the two chambers of parliament, his office said in a statement.
Mattarella has said any new coalition must have an agreed platform that can pass parliament, after months of political clashes between M5S and the League over several high profile policies.
If the parties cannot come to an agreement and form a solid majority, Mattarrella will call an early election for November 10, according to reports. — AFP