Italy's Conte faces key confidence votes next week

By Giada Zampano

ROME (AA) – Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will address parliament early next week and face two confidence votes that will decide his government's survival after a junior party pulled out of the ruling coalition, depriving it of a parliamentary majority.

Conte made clear his intention to solve the political impasse in parliament when he met Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday afternoon, updating him on the crisis sparked on Wednesday by former premier Matteo Renzi and his centrist Italia Viva party.

After months of open clashes with the premier, Renzi withdrew his two ministers from Conte’s cabinet in protest against his handling of key economic resources and his "centralizer" role.

Renzi’s move rocked Italian politics, just as the country is battling a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic and is mired in its worst economic recession since World War II.

On Monday, Conte will address the Chamber of Deputies, where a debate will be followed by a first vote of confidence that should provide an indication on the chances for the premier to pull together a new, or reinforced majority. The crucial vote, however, will be held the following day in the Senate, where finding additional support is more difficult.

The two main government forces – the populist Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party – are standing by Conte after blasting Renzi’s choice as “irresponsible” and “damaging” for the whole country.

Renzi’s party hovered below 3% in recent polls, but in parliament, the former premier commands 48 lawmakers who are a determinant for Conte to remain in place. In particular, the defection of 18 Italia Viva senators would deprive Conte’s government of the majority needed in the upper house.

Key support for Conte could come from the so-called “responsible” lawmakers, members of smaller and independent groups who would back the majority in parliament in the name of Italy’s political stability.

"There’s nothing wrong about speaking out in the open with political forces available to support a pro-European government able to handle the sanitary emergency and the recovery plan,” said Dario Franceschini, culture minister and a senior member of the Democratic Party who is known for his role as a mediator.

If Conte fails in cobbling together a new parliamentary majority, he would be left with no other option than tendering his resignation. That would leave Mattarella with the task of consulting parties to find another political solution or with the extreme choice of dissolving chambers and calling early elections.

Both the Five Stars and the Democratic Party fear the prospect of early polls, as – according to the latest forecasts — they would face a sour defeat, with the center-right opposition expected to win as much as 50% of the vote.

“We’re asking Conte to come to parliament immediately and explain to Italians what is going on,” said the Northern League party’s leader Matteo Salvini, who would likely head a nationalist, Eurosceptic government in case of an electoral win of the right-wing bloc.