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Published: Saturday, 4/27/2013

Prime Minister-designate Enrico Letta forms a rare coalition government in Italy

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ROME — Ending a crushing two-month political stalemate that had spooked European leaders, Prime Minister-designate Enrico Letta formed a rare coalition government today uniting left and right — and including a record number of women and Italy's first nonwhite minister — to steer Italy, with the eurozone's third-largest economy, out of the doldrums.

For finance minister, Letta chose a veteran with a strong international profile: Fabrizio Saccomanni, who as director general of the Bank of Italy worked closely under Mario Draghi, now the president of the European Central Bank. For foreign minister, he named Emma Bonino, a former member of the European Parliament and a Radical Party member known for her independent streak.

But for the most part, Letta, 46, largely named new and younger cabinet members, acknowledging growing popular momentum for generational change after a quarter of Italians voted for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in inconclusive elections in February. In that vote, Letta's center-left Democratic Party placed first, but without a majority to govern, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Liberty party placed second.

Angelino Alfano, the secretary of People of Liberty, will be deputy prime minister and interior minister, a sign of the power that Berlusconi still wields. The coalition could not be formed until Berlusconi returned to Rome after attending the inauguration of George W. Bush's Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, where Berlusconi, 76, was photographed dozing during the ceremony.

Known as a bridge builder, Letta, the nephew of Berlusconi's closest aide, will lead the first political grand coalition in Italy in decades. The cabinet is expected to be sworn in Sunday and will face confidence votes in both houses of Parliament this week. It replaces the 15-month government of Mario Monti, which had the support of both the right and left but under a limited, technocratic mandate.

In introducing Letta's lineup today, President Giorgio Napolitano said it was "the only government possible," one whose formation "couldn't be delayed further, in the interest of our country and of Europe." He added that he trusted that politicians across the political spectrum would "get to work quickly in a spirit of fervid cohesion."

Napolitano tapped Letta to form a government last week after the leader of the Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, quit following two months of failed attempts to form a minority government with the Five Star Movement and after the party's candidates for president failed. That led to the surprise re-election of Napolitano to a second term on April 21 after political leaders failed to agree on a successor.

At his swearing-in ceremony last week, an angry Napolitano told lawmakers that they had failed on every front — especially in carrying out reforms — and that he would quit if they failed again. Although Letta's government is a new experiment in power sharing, it has the strong backing of the president, who has transformed an often symbolic role into one with more executive power.

"The grandfather helped bring about the government of the grandkids," said Mario Calabresi, the editor-in-chief of the Turin daily newspaper La Stampa.

Cecile Kyenge, an ophthalmologist and native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was named minister of integration, Italy's first nonwhite minister, while Josefa Idem, a German-born Olympic gold medal kayaker, will be minister of equal opportunities and sports. Kyenge's nomination was already being contested by the anti-immigrant Northern League.

Enrico Giovannini, the director of Istat, Italy's national statistics agency, will be labor minister, responsible for implementing changes to the pension law under the Monti government, and Anna Maria Cancellieri, the interior minister in the Monti government, will be justice minister.

"This government has a strong basis with very experienced people in key positions," said Gianfranco Pasquino, a political science professor at John Hopkins University's school of international studies in Bologna, Italy. "It is also remarkably young, and new ideas are useful and refreshing also in this country. It also has many women, who can express a very different point of view from what bad politics has expressed so far."

It is also likely to urge European leaders to ease up on the austerity agenda.

''The paradox is that Letta, who is one of the most Europeanist leaders in Italy, had to go to Europe and say, 'If this is how Europe is going, we won't stand for it,'" said Marco Damilano, a political correspondent for the center-left weekly L'Espresso.

As in Greece, where a three-party coalition has held together since June out of fear of extinction and lack of viable alternatives, analysts said that in Italy, the duration of the government largely depends on the economy. Unemployment is above 11 percent, rising to 38 percent for young people, and in June, a government-sponsored furlough program is set to expire for many businesses, which could lead to social unrest.

The duration also depends on the kind of structural changes the government will be able to carry out, including an overhaul of Italy's electoral law, which is designed to ensure instability. Until that is changed, no party in the coalition is likely to want to force early elections for fear that they will produce the same divided result. But the government's strange birth, following Napolitano's re-election, was as much a failure of Italy's political class as a victory. The Democratic Party has all but collapsed and was always deeply divided between former communists and former Christian Democrats, like Letta, who now leads a party whose members had been opposed to allying with Berlusconi.

The inconsistencies and structural flaws in the Italian left help explain why it has never definitively been able to defeat Berlusconi, who analysts say does not want to govern again but wants a hand in government to protect his own interests, especially in his various legal entanglements. Italians are increasingly cynical and upset with the political class.

''At all levels, Italian politicians have stolen for years, and I even believed in Berlusconi because I thought he was a businessman and therefore different from the same old faces," said Vittorio Ragoni, 65, a street vendor in Rome.

"We need action," he added. "I've pulled in half of what I used to two years ago. Do you think I care about speeches and promises?"



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