Fragile Italian government faces do-or-die votes in parliament

Crispian Balmer
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: ItalianPrime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks at a news conference

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces two days of parliamentary votes that will decide if his fragile coalition can cling to power or has lost its majority, pushing Italy into deeper political turmoil.

Conte will address the lower house on Monday and the upper house, the Senate, on Tuesday about the future of his government after a junior partner quit the cabinet in a row over his handling of the twin coronavirus and economic crises.

Votes will be held in both chambers, with Conte struggling to fill the hole left by the defection of former premier Matteo Renzi and his small Italia Viva party.

Attention is especially focused on the 321-seat Senate, where Conte could be 10 votes short of an absolute majority after his efforts to persuade centrists in opposition ranks to rally to his side looked to have failed.

Renzi has said his 18 senators will probably abstain on Tuesday. If they do, the coalition will likely win the ballot, but without an absolute majority, the government will be inherently instable and it is not clear if President Sergio Mattarella would let Conte limp on in such a scenario.

Further muddying the waters, the co-ruling Democratic Party (PD), will want a cabinet reshuffle and a renegotiation of the coalition pact should the prime minister overcome the challenge in parliament, said a PD official who declined to be named.

Italia Viva has said it would return to the coalition if its policy demands are met. "Our problems can be sorted out in two hours," party lawmaker Ettore Rosato told Sky Italia TV.

However, both the centre-left PD and its coalition ally, the 5-Star Movement, have said they want nothing more to do with Renzi, accusing him of betrayal.

There also seems little chance that 5-Star will accept a key Renzi demand - that Italy apply for a loan from the euro zone's bailout fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) - to help its health service deal with COVID-19. The pandemic has killed almost 82,000 Italians, the sixth highest toll in the world.

"I will never vote for a government that considers itself the best in the world, that has seen 82,000 deaths and has not taken the ESM," Renzi told state broadcaster RAI on Sunday.

Critics of the loan scheme say it could come with unwelcome conditions and note that no other EU state has tapped the fund.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Susan Fenton)