Mild-mannered Zingaretti outflanks firebrand Salvini 

Mild-mannered Zingaretti outflanks firebrand Salvini 

Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, has asked Giuseppe Conte to return as prime minister by heading up a coalition of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), in a move that could improve Italian relations with the rest of the European Union.

The markets welcomed the quick end to a three-week political crisis triggered by Lega leader Matteo Salvini, who pulled his far-right party out of a governing alliance with M5S after weeks of disagreement.

Salvini gambled on a general election to capitalise on his party’s success in May’s European election. But his plan has backfired as M5S and the PD, which both lag the anti-migrant Lega in opinion polls, set aside their differences to form a government.

Conte, 55, is a former academic who was chosen as a compromise prime minister between the Lega and M5S. His return was one of the central demands of M5S during talks with the PD.

One of the big winners to emerge from the crisis has been the previously low-profile PD leader, Nicola Zingaretti (pictured). But the 53-year-old has rejected invitations to join the cabinet himself.

He is believed to have told Salvini that he favoured an early general election but was then persuaded to freeze out the Lega by forming a coalition with his bitter M5S rivals.

Zingaretti’s change of approach has been attributed to Matteo Renzi, 44, the former prime minister and PD senator, who advocated the opportunity despite a history of disputes with M5S.

Zingaretti’s proposal to back the alliance and accept Conte’s premiership was greeted with a standing ovation at a PD meeting on Wednesday. Zingaretti said the new government would “put an end to the season of hatred, rancour and fear”.

Zingaretti started out in the Communist Party, combating ethnic prejudice. His great-grandmother died in Auschwitz in 1943.

Zingaretti has founded a charity, Black and Not Only, and campaigned in favour of a multicultural society.

He is a father of two who takes the bus and does his own shopping. The new PD chief has been described as lacking charisma and is little known outside central Italy, where he was governor of the region of Lazio.

“He is seen as too much of a Roman figure,” said journalist Francesco Bonazzi. His calm demeanour and good humour made him a perfect antidote to the bombastic populists, Bonazzi said.

“He is someone you don’t need to be ashamed of when you go abroad,” the journalist said. “The majority of the people in this country are not brutes like Salvini. He’s a bit soporific, but he could represent a real change of style when the wind of populism turns.”


Nicola Zingaretti. Picture credit: Wikimedia



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