ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces a cabinet showdown on Tuesday with a small coalition partner that could bring down his government and unleash political chaos on Italy.
Here are possible scenarios if Italia Viva, headed by former premier Matteo Renzi, pushes ahead with its threat to walk out.
NEW GOVERNMENT, OLD PARTNERS
Conte could look to negotiate a new pact with the same parties that make up the current coalition. This would open the way for a major cabinet reshuffle, as Renzi has demanded. Such a shake-up would require a fresh confidence vote in parliament and would be regarded as a completely new government.
This has been touted in the media as the most likely outcome. However, a source in Conte's office told Reuters on Tuesday the prime minister would not look to forge a new deal with Italia Viva if it walked away from the cabinet now.
NEW GOVERNMENT, NEW SUPPORTERS
Conte's aides have suggested he might try to put together a group of "responsible" parliamentarians from opposition ranks who would promise to prop up his government in parliament. To do this, he would need to find around 25 lawmakers in the 630-seat lower house and 18 in the 315-seat Senate.
Such an operation carries many risks in terms of future stability and the Democratic Party (PD), second largest member of the ruling coalition, has said it is against the idea. Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, is also reportedly opposed to such a manoeuvre.
NEW GOVERNMENT, OLD ALLIES, NEW PRIME MINISTER
In this scenario, Conte would exit the scene and the existing coalition partners would draw up a new pact and decide on a new prime minister. Renzi has a personal antipathy to Conte so would certainly welcome his departure, but the 5-Star Movement, which boasts most lawmakers in the ruling coalition, wants him to stay. Finding a substitute agreeable to all sides would be tough.
Conte himself has no formal party affiliation but is seen as close to 5-Star.
GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY
If a normal government cannot be forged, Mattarella would explore whether coalition and opposition parties could support a government of national unity. Such an administration would be headed by a non-political figure. The names most often mentioned for such a role are former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and Marta Cartabia, ex-head of the constitutional court.
The opposition is divided over such a prospect, with Matteo Salvini, head of the League, refusing to rule it out while his main ally, the far-right Brothers of Italy, has rejected it. It is not clear if 5-Star or the PD would sign up to such an idea.
The option of last resort. One problem with this scenario is that parliament has not yet agreed on a new electoral law to take into account a 2020 referendum that approved a drastic cut in lawmakers. There is no consensus on how the new law should look, which would slow the rush to a vote. Another problem is that Italy currently chairs the G20, and prolonged political paralysis would hamper its presidency -- not to mention the country's ability to tackle the COVID and economic crises.
Given the looming cut in parliamentary numbers, lawmakers are expected to push for alternative solutions to an early vote.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Ediitng by Gareth Jones)