Italy's Conte wins crucial confidence vote, tougher test on Tuesday

Nellie Chapman
January 20, 2021

The prime minister is trying to keep his government together without Renzi, going to the Senate on Tuesday for a vote of confidence - in which Italia Viva will abstain.

In the lower Chamber of Deputies, where the 16-month-old government holds a more comfortable margin, Mr. Conte won a first confidence vote on Monday. Conte's hand could still be forced if he suffers a shock defeat in the Senate vote.

Conte won by 156 votes to 140 but he stressed that Italy is facing an unprecedented crisis as a result of the corona pandemic.

Critics in turn accused Renzi - whose Italia Viva party is polling at just three percent - of rocking the boat for political gain, saying he wanted to force a government reshuffle that would give him more ministerial power.

However, Conte failed to secure an absolute majority, meaning he now heads a minority government that will struggle to implement its policy programme at a time of severe national emergency.

"We're waiting to learn if the president of the republic thinks that in these conditions Conte can go forward", Meloni said.

In the days ahead the premier is expected to try and entice legislators, including conservative and socialist deputies as well as former M5S members and defectors from Renzi's camp, to shore up his precarious coalition.

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Infighting between the coalition partners around how Italy should structure spending the European Union's recovery fund had sparked a political crisis that could bring down the Italian government.

Conte told the Senate on Tuesday that the pandemic makes it more important for his government to stay afloat.

A few of the votes in Conte's favor came from the tiny ranks of senators-for-life, who only occasionally come to Parliament to cast votes. The opposition center-right is demanding an early election, but that option is considered the least likely outcome of the political crisis, given the difficulty of organizing a campaign and vote during a pandemic.

Renzi continues to insist his motives are pure, declaring Monday: "When the fog of fake news clears we will understand that the problem is not my character, but the failure to reopen schools, high Covid mortality, the most serious economic crisis in Europe, the vaccination delay, a Recovery Plan not worthy of our country".

Renzi and the 5-Stars had clashed over the Movement's refusal to accept European Union loan money to help reinforce Italy's health care system. Nicole Winfield in Rome and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed. The process will be repeated in the upper house, the Senate, on Tuesday.

Conte's coalition has been on the brink since the country's former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew the support of his Italia Viva (Italy Alive) party last week, depriving Conte of his majority in the Senate.

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