Italian Premier Wins Confidence Vote, Still Seeks Majority

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte scraped through a confidence vote in the Italian Senate Tuesday, giving him a chance to consolidate his hold on power in the days ahead.

With the country in the grip of a surging pandemic and a brutal recession, senators backed the premier with 156 votes in favor and 140 against. There were 16 abstentions and nine senators didn’t attend. He’ll need 161 votes in future for the outright majority that is required to pass certain key legislation.

Italian Premier Wins Confidence Vote, Still Seeks Majority

The premier may add further support on Wednesday when a group of senators have indicated they will be ready to give him their backing, according to people familiar with those talks.

In a speech earlier, the 56-year-old premier urged senators to rally behind his coalition and a new government program as he looks to engineer a recovery. The result will provide a boost for officials across the European Union trying to coordinate efforts to fight the pandemic and vindication to investors who’ve wagered that Italian politicians wouldn’t pitch the country into an election campaign with the pandemic raging all around them.

An early election would also have risked handing over power to the center-right opposition led by the anti-immigrant League. Additionally, many lawmakers won’t be re-elected in any new ballot as the number of seats up for grabs has been reduced as part of a reform measure.

With the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programs also offering support to governments across the euro area, Italy’s 10-year yields have traded in a narrow range throughout the political turmoil.

Conte was forced to face confidence measures in parliament after ex-Premier Matteo Renzi pulled his small Italy Alive party out of the government. Renzi charged Conte with inaction, criticized his spending plans for the EU recovery package and said he’d accumulated too much power in managing the pandemic.

For Conte, an obscure law professor until he was catapulted to the premiership in 2018, Tuesday’s vote marks the second time he’s managed to survive the defection of a coalition partner. When Matteo Salvini of the anti-migrant League ditched his coalition in 2019, Conte replaced him with the center-left Democratic Party.

“We ask all political and parliamentary forces which have at heart the destiny of Italy to help us to start again as quickly as possible,” Conte told the Senate on Tuesday, after winning the lower-house confidence vote Monday night. “Help us to heal the wound which the crisis has created in the pact of trust with citizens.”

Conte had only a razor-thin majority in the Senate even before Renzi’s defection, and he’s now targeting pro-European centrists, unaffiliated lawmakers and senators from Renzi’s party to cement an outright majority and lay the crisis to rest in the coming days.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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