Salvini sidelined by Italy's unlikely coalition
Italy was on the verge of having a new government last night after the centre-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement said they were prepared to form a coalition.
The deal will avert a general election which would likely have resulted in Matteo Salvini becoming prime minister at the head of a hard-right alliance.
Giuseppe Conte, who resigned as prime minister last week, is poised to be reinstated. He will meet Sergio Mattarella, the president, this morning and is likely to be given a mandate to try to form a new government.
The breakthrough in the tortuous political crisis came after Mr Mattarella held talks with all the major parties.
After days of disagreement, the Democratic Party (PD) agreed to Five Star's demand that Mr Conte be reinstated.
The softly spoken former lawyer will now have to hammer out a common agenda and a list of ministers between the putative partners, who were previously sworn enemies.
The crisis was precipitated earlier this month when Mr Salvini, the deputy prime minister and head of the far-right League, withdrew his support from the previous coalition with Five Star, declaring it dead.
He demanded that the country head to elections, but his gamble backfired.
Last night, Mr Salvini said he was "incredulous" that the Democrats, who performed dismally in European elections in May, were now poised to enter government "through the back door".
He blamed "palace games" for creating the nascent coalition, which he said defied the will of millions of voters. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement had jumped into bed with the old-style establishment in a coalition that would be "remote-controlled by Merkel and Macron", he added.
The League is by far the most popular party, although its support has dropped a few points in recent days from a high of 39pc.
Nicola Zingaretti, the head of the PD, said the new government offered a fresh start and "discontinuity" with the populist coalition.
The deal could still falter - the parties have to agree a ministerial line-up and Five Star, a champion of direct democracy, will allow its grass-roots supporters to vote on the accord in an online poll. "Only if the vote is positive will Five Star support [it]," said Luigi Di Maio, the party's leader.
Mr Salvini is trenchantly opposed to the new coalition, which could lock him out of power for the rest of the legislature, due to last until 2023. Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, also condemned the deal.
The two new allies have been highly critical of each other for years and disagree on key issues, from the economy to big infrastructure projects and attitudes towards Brussels, with the PD much more pro-EU than Five Star.
"The new coalition is unlikely to prove stable in the long run," said Federico Santi of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy.
Should the new government fail, Mr Salvini will be poised to bounce back.