Italy's prime minister facing two confidence votes that could sink government

Giada Zampano
·3-min read
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte this week faces potentially the biggest challenges yet to his leadership  - Getty/Getty
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte this week faces potentially the biggest challenges yet to his leadership - Getty/Getty

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces two key confidence votes in parliament this week as his political survival hangs by a few ballots.

After former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his centrist Italia Viva party from the ruling coalition, in protest against Mr Conte’s economic policies and “centralizing” methods, the Italian government was deprived of its fragile parliamentary majority.

The political crisis rocked Italy just as the country is struggling to contain a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and facing its worst recession since World War II.

Mr Conte resisted calls for his resignation from the center-right opposition, as his two main ruling partners, the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the populist Five Star Movement, stood by his side, blasting Renzi’s move as “irresponsible.”

The premier is now betting on building up a new majority in parliament, counting on the support of the so-called “responsibles". They are members of smaller centrist or independent groups that would support Mr Conte in exchange for senior roles in a reshuffled cabinet.

However, after the last-minute defections of a few potential allies, including the centrist group Udc, Mr Conte’s task looks increasingly daunting.

“Some of the MPs who were supposed to be Conte's staunchest allies have already publicly announced that they are not willing to back Conte. This is no domino effect, rather, it is a reverse domino,” said Francesco Galietti, founder of consultancy firm Policy Sonar.

The premier will address the chamber of deputies on Monday, where he should easily win the confidence vote as he enjoys a wider majority there.

The key battle will be fought in the Senate the following day, where Mr Conte needs the backing of at least 10 senators to reach the absolute majority, a target that now seems too ambitious for the weakened leader. Mr Conte will likely obtain only a simple majority in the upper house, surviving the confidence vote. But he would end up commanding an extremely shaky majority that would risk to collapse at any divisive vote in the coming months.

A defeat in parliament would leave him with no other choice than stepping down.

Mr Conte may be able to salvage his leadership with support from centrist parties  - Anadolu Agency 
Mr Conte may be able to salvage his leadership with support from centrist parties - Anadolu Agency

In that case, the ball would be in the court of President Sergio Mattarella, who would have the task of consulting parties to find another solution, such as a “transition” cabinet led by another political leader or a government of national unity.

The extreme and less palatable choice for the president would be dissolving chambers and calling early elections, a very complex option in the middle of a pandemic.

Both the Five Stars and the Democratic Party fear the prospect of an early vote as the polls suggest they face defeat, with the center-right, Eurosceptic opposition expected to win as much as 50 per cent of the vote.