by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Italy's struggles to create a government more than a dozen weeks after an inconclusive general election are now reduced to two flawed options -- a weak technical government most likely led by economist Carlo Cottarelli or a political government that somehow eluded political bosses up to now.
Italy's politics is entering into an unchartered territory weeks after the March 4 vote, which saw stronger-than-usual finishes for two anti-establishment parties.
The parties, the populist Five-Star Movement and the nationalist League, took 11 weeks to decide on an unheralded law professor Giuseppe Conte as their nominee for prime minister. But Conte's government was nixed due to opposition about a controversial, euro-skeptic nominee as finance minister.
After that, Italian President Sergio Mattarella picked Cottarelli to head a technical government. But the Five-Star Movement and the League have indicated they would not support a Cottarelli government, meaning it would have to operate within very limited parameters until a new election could be called, possibly within 50 days.
Meanwhile, the Five-Star Movement and the League have resurrected efforts to form a political government that would get President Mattarella's OK and make new elections unnecessary.
"There are no easy or compelling political choices for Italy at this point," Gian Franco Gallo, a political analyst, told Xinhua.
At least for the moment, Cottarelli appears to have the inside track though chances are very slim that he could survive a confidence vote, which could be held as soon as next week. He could still head the government despite losing the confidence vote, but he would do so in a strict caretaker capacity.
If that indeed happens, Cottarelli would be Italy's first-ever technocrat head of government who failed to win a confidence vote for his appointment.
"Without winning a confidence vote a Cottarelli government would have a tremendously small mandate charged with simply keeping the government running," Andrea Marrone, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Bologna, told Xinhua. "That means assuring state workers get paid, pensions are paid, and that kind of thing."
Marrone said one exception could come in a moment of crisis, such as a natural disaster or a financial meltdown. Under those circumstances, he said, a technical government would have the power to take actions aimed at relieving the problem even without winning a confidence vote. But it would have to be careful not to take any steps that go beyond that.
Paolo Bellucci, a political scientist with the University of Siena, said it is not even clear whether a hypothetical Cottarelli government would be allowed to take steps towards passing the country's 2019 budget. In Italy, the national budget is drawn up in specific steps and must be passed by the last quarter of the year.
"If Italy finds itself with technical government without the support of parliament, the country will be unable to address any of the reforms it needs," Bellucci said in an interview.
A technical government could be very short lived: under those circumstances, the law allows for new elections within 50 days, meaning a new vote could take place in late July -- the tentative date appearing in the Italian press is July 29 -- a time when many Italians are away from home on vacation.
Undeterred by their failure with the proposed Conte government, the Five-Star Movement and the League say they are also working to come up with a political solution that would make new elections unnecessary. But it is unclear who they could pick as prime minister who would appeal to the parties' base, meet Mattarella's approval, and who was not considered during the weeks of negotiations leading up to Conte's ill-fated nomination.