Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte won a crucial vote of confidence in the lower house of parliament, clinging to power after a junior partner left his coalition and sparked a political crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Conte lost his coalition majority last week with the defection ministers belonging to former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s small but large Italia Viva party, a move that follows weeks of criticism of the government’s economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following a call to the opposition and unaligned lawmakers for “clear support,” Conte’s government on Monday won the lower house vote by 321 to 259, a larger margin than expected. gave an absolute majority in the 629-seat chamber. .
Conte will face a tougher test on Tuesday in the Senate upper house, where the government had a slim majority even when Italia Viva was still in the coalition.
Conte insists that his coalition, formed in September 2019 and comprising mainly the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the populist Five Star movement (M5S), could continue without Renzi. But even though the government survives in parliament in numbers, the withdrawal of Renzi’s party last week highlighted the fragility of the coalition.
Renzi has long criticized Conte’s handling of the pandemic, from closing several months of high schools to supporting small businesses threatened with closure.
Conte, a former law professor who was never himself elected, told parliament his government had acted “with the utmost care”, taking “decisive action” where appropriate.
New measures were introduced on Sunday, with shops and restaurants closing and residents urged to stay at home in several areas.
Italy is one of the European countries most affected by the pandemic and is one of the main beneficiaries of a European Union economic recovery fund of 750 billion euros (906 billion dollars).
But Renzi accused the government of wasting the opportunity, deeming its € 220bn ($ 266bn) plan for EU funds too focused on winning donations to voting instead of dealing with long-standing structural issues. term. He also called on Italy to use the eurozone rescue fund – the European Stability Mechanism – a move fiercely resisted by the M5S, which fears it could lead to tough conditions on public spending.
Conte amended the stimulus package following criticism from Renzi, but the Italia Viva politician said on Monday that it “still wasn’t working”.
Opinion polls suggest that if the current turmoil leads to early elections, a right-wing coalition including the anti-immigration and anti-European League party would seize power.
Conte urged lawmakers from “the highest European tradition – liberal, popular and socialist” to support the government.
“Have we always made the best decisions? Anyone can do their assessments, ”Conte told the lower house. “For my part, I can say that the government has worked with the greatest care and the greatest attention for delicate balances, including constitutional ones,” while bearing in mind the heavy implications for the Italians.
The Prime Minister expressed his perplexity at the political crisis for which he saw “no plausible basis” at a time when the pandemic, which has killed more than 82,000 people in the country, was “still in progress”.
He said developments in Rome had caused “deep consternation” in the country as the priority had to be tackling the virus and reviving the economy.
During the debate, Conte conceded a point of contention, saying he would relinquish the Secret Service portfolio. But he also made it clear that it would be difficult to mend barriers with Renzi, who has come under severe criticism for power play during the pandemic.
“We can’t forget what happened, and you can’t think of regaining the climate of trust,” Conte said.
Italia Viva MP Ivan Scalfarotto accused Conte of setting up too many task forces during the pandemic and not taking enough action.
Stefanie Dekker of Al Jazeera, reporting from Rome, said many locals were apparently against the prospect of a snap election at a time when “the country is trying to tackle the coronavirus with a new lockdown”.
Conte, a trained lawyer hailed for his mediation skills, was asked by M5S to lead the government after an indecisive 2018 election led to a ruling party coalition with a right-wing group led by the leader from the League party, Matteo Salvini.
This government fell when Salvini, then Minister of the Interior, organized a failed takeover.
Conte was able to form a new government with the support of the PD, which at the time also included Renzi, who then left the party he once led.