Italy’s Premier May Not Have Votes to Halt Political Turmoil
(Bloomberg) -- Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte risks emerging weakened from a parliamentary showdown this week even if he can muster enough votes to hold on to power.
Conte faces a confidence vote in the lower house of parliament late Monday, which he’s likely to win, but he could face a similar vote in the Senate on Tuesday, where he has less room for maneuver after former ally Matteo Renzi withdrew his backing.
Conte needs about a dozen more votes in the Senate to restore an outright majority in the 321-strong upper chamber after the defection of Renzi’s party. Renzi, a former premier, told Rai television on Sunday that his 18 senators will probably abstain, which would be enough for Conte’s government to survive, but with its authority seriously damaged.
Without an absolute majority in the Senate, Conte could soldier on for several weeks while he seeks to win over more lawmakers. But he might have to forge a new coalition and negotiate a new program to remain premier, officials said. All this while battling to keep the Covid-19 pandemic in check and seeking to revive the country’s battered economy.
If the attempt to garner more support fails, early elections could possibly take place in June, the officials said. But the fact that many coalition lawmakers would lose their seats in a vote, with the center-right opposition poised to triumph, makes a ballot a remote prospect for now, they said.
Conte in a 12 p.m. lower-house speech will appeal to centrists and pro-European forces, as well as any lawmakers who could break from Renzi’s party, as he attempts to forge a pact lasting until the end of the legislature in 2023, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Monday. He will prioritize the European Union’s recovery fund, the need for a wider budget deficit, and the coronavirus vaccination campaign, Corriere said.
“Our goal was never to kick Conte out,” Renzi said on Rai. He said he’s open to negotiations if his red lines, including a demand to tap credit lines linked to the European Stability Mechanism for health spending, are taken into account.
While officials from the main parties in the coalition, the Democrats and the Five Star Movement, view it as difficult to patch things up with Renzi, governing without a firm parliamentary majority would put key legislation in jeopardy, including budget laws.
One scenario would see Conte submitting his resignation to seek a new mandate as prime minister and have more time to negotiate with parties, although some officials have ruled out the possibility he would do it before any vote.
President Sergio Mattarella, who would oversee the process of forging a new government, has pressured Conte to ensure a quick resolution to the crisis and has insisted he must have a stable majority if he is to remain premier, officials with knowledge of the matter said.
A group of centrists courted by the majority said on Saturday they wouldn’t back Conte’s government, Ansa news agency reported, citing the UDC party.
To bring senators on board, Conte’s supporters -- chiefly from the center-left Democrats and other centrists -- have been warning of the risk of a snap election, which would likely lead to a center-right alliance taking power, according to officials campaigning of behalf Conte, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential deliberations.
They’ve also argued that calling a general election in the midst of a global pandemic would damage Italy’s international credibility and risk unnerving investors. Instead, Conte’s backers have urged senators to focus on approving a plan to spend the windfall from the European Union’s recovery fund.
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