Italy: 5-Stars' activists OK deal for coalition of rivals

Activists from Italy's populist 5-Star Movement have voted overwhelmingly in an online ballot to approve a deal for a governing coalition with the rival, mainstream Democrats

ROME -- Activists from Italy's populist 5-Star Movement voted overwhelmingly in an online ballot Tuesday to approve a deal for a governing coalition with the rival, mainstream Democrats that would thwart popular right-wing leader Matteo Salvini's quest for early elections.

The 5-Stars' leader, Luigi Di Maio, told reporters that 80% of those voting said "yes." The result paves the way for a second government headed by Premier Giuseppe Conte. The first, a coalition of the 5-Stars and Salvini's anti-migrant League, collapsed last month when Salvini yanked his support in a gamble for early elections from which he hoped to emerge as premier himself.

It was unclear when Conte might announce he has nailed down a Cabinet for the coalition. A Democratic Party leader, Graziano Del Rio, told reporters Tuesday evening that work to flesh out the Cabinet and coalition policies was "practically complete."

Infighting has plagued both the center-left Democrats and the 5-Stars. The bickering risks eroding a relatively narrow majority the two parties would have in Parliament, where Conte must win required confidence votes in the legislature's two chambers.

Only about 115,000 people were eligible to vote on the 5-Stars' online platform, dubbed Rousseau — compared with 10 million Italians who cast votes for the 5-Stars in the March 2018 election that brought them into national power for the first time.

But Di Maio, who was one of two deputy premiers in Conte's first government, along with hardline Interior Minister Salvini, exuded confidence.

"We were always seen as a peril, but we have now shown to have at our core the Italians' interests," Di Maio said. "We can assure stability, this is a revolutionary fact," he said referring to the ambitious goal of keeping the next government going until elections are formally due in 2023.

Italy's head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, last week asked Conte to try to form a new coalition after a round of talks with party leaders.

Salvini was quick to heap scorn on the apparently imminent birth of another Conte government with the 5-Stars as the senior partner. Salvini and his anti-migrant, "Italians first" League have soared in popularity since the 2018 election in which his party finished behind the 5-Stars, and he was betting that elections soon would catapult him into the premiership.

"They can't escape the ballot box forever," Salvini tweeted. As recently as a few days ago, Salvini was still trying to entice Di Maio into another coalition deal when he realized Italy wasn't getting the early elections he had counted on when he turned his back on Conte.