Italy’s Conte wins first test, but Senate vote looms

By Giada Zampano​​​​​​​

ROME (AA) – Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte survived a first vote of confidence in the Lower House on Monday but faces a key test in the Senate a day after, which will prove determinant for his government’s survival.

After addressing lawmakers in a bid to rebuild his wrecked coalition — deprived of a fragile parliamentary majority after the exit of a junior ally — Conte won the confidence test with 321 votes in favor and 250 against his government, clinching the absolute majority in the Lower House.

The numbers obtained were hailed as a first victory for the premier and his ruling partners, forced to search for new allies in parliament after former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pulled his centrist Italia Viva party from the governing coalition in protest against Conte’s policies and “centralizing” methods.

But the vote that will decide the government’s future will be held Tuesday in the upper house, where the ruling parties – the populist Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party – command a much thinner group of senators, with the risk of obtaining only a relative majority.

Earlier in the day, Conte defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis and appealed to the support of other “willing” lawmakers — with solid pro-European, liberal and socialist roots — to help him continue governing at “epoch-making” times as Italy struggles to exit the COVID-19 health crisis and a dramatic recession.

Conte also hit back at Renzi’s “irresponsible” move in his speech, without ever naming him, but apparently slamming the door on a possible new alliance.

The premier stressed that he could not understand a political crisis that he dubbed “unfounded” and damaging for Italy and its citizens, suffering amid difficult times.

“At this point, we can’t cancel what happened. Now we’re turning the page,” he told lawmakers.

However, after the defections of a few possible allies over the weekend — including the centrist group Udc — Conte’s task to build up a new majority in parliament appears increasingly challenging.

If an easy win in the Lower House was predictable, Conte in the Senate will likely obtain only a simple majority, emerging from the parliamentary battle with an extremely shaky coalition that would risk collapsing at any divisive vote in the coming months.

In the worst-case scenario, he still faces a possible – but unlikely — defeat in the Senate, which would leave him with no other choice than stepping down.

In that case, the ball would be in the court of President Sergio Mattarella, who would have the task of consulting parties to find another political solution, possibly a “transition” government led by another political leader or a government of “national unity” headed by a technocrat.

The extreme choice for the president would be dissolving chambers and calling early elections, a very complex option in the middle of a pandemic, which would likely see a sound win of the center-right, nationalist and Eurosceptic bloc.