By Gavin Jones and Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addressed the Italian Senate on Tuesday, hoping to win over enough opposition and unaligned lawmakers to keep him in office after a junior partner quit his coalition.
Conte gave almost the same speech to the upper house as he had delivered on Monday to the Chamber of Deputies, where he won by a wider than expected margin of 321 votes to 259, securing an absolute majority.
In the Senate, where the situation is much tighter, he added a comment about former premier Matteo Renzi's frequent quarrels with his coalition partners before he walked out.
"I assure you it's very hard to govern in these conditions, with people who continuously place mines in our path and try to undermine the political balance patiently reached by the coalition," he said.
Conte had only a slim majority in the 321-seat Senate even before Renzi withdrew his small centrist party Italia Viva from the government's ranks last week.
The result of the confidence vote, at the end of what promises to be a fiery debate, is due some time after 7 pm (1800 GMT).
If the prime minister loses he will be forced to resign, putting an end to his 17-month government led by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).
The most optimistic recent tally by political analysts has put Conte on 157 votes, four short of an absolute majority, though Monday's wider than expected victory margin in the Chamber of Deputies may buoy the premier's hopes.
He does not need an absolute majority to remain in office, he merely needs to win the vote, but leading a minority government would put him in an extremely precarious position if and when he tries to push through any contested legislation.
Italian benchmark bond yields edged lower on Tuesday ahead of Conte's speech which began at 9.40 am (0840 GMT).
The country's borrowing costs have increased since Renzi's walk-out but a major sell-off has been averted by the European Central Bank's purchases of Italian assets and market confidence the crisis can be resolved without fresh elections.
Looking to entice centrist and liberal lawmakers, Conte has promised to revamp his policy agenda and shake up his cabinet, saying he wanted to modernise Italy and speed up implementation of a recovery plan for the recession-stricken economy.
Renzi, who withdrew his party from the cabinet due to disagreement over the prime minister's handling of the twin coronavirus and economic crises, has said Italia Viva will "probably" abstain in Tuesday's vote as it did in the Chamber.
If its senators should decide to vote against Conte, they will significantly reduce his chances of survival.
(additional reporting by Valentina Consiglio; editing by Philippa Fletcher)