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Italian PM Giuseppe Conte wins confidence vote

January 19, 2021

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has survived an upper house confidence vote, keeping his fragile administration afloat. The crisis leaves the leader vulnerable for future attacks.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addresses senators
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte does not need an absolute majority to remain in officeImage: Andeas Solaro/AFP

Italy's Senate endorsed Giuseppe Conte's government in a vote of confidence on Tuesday, but the prime minister failed to secure an overall majority in parliament.

The government has been teetering on the brink of collapse since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party last week. The move left Conte without majority in the Senate, which is the upper chamber of the Italian parliament. Renzi's departure came after weeks of tensions over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Conte managed to stay in power following the late-night vote in the 321-seat senate. However, the split with Renzi left him short of the 161 votes needed for an overall majority as almost all Italia Viva's senators abstained. The final count showed 156 senators voting for keeping the government in place, while 140 voted against it.

Italy's unused hospital

Twin threats

The Italian PM was quick to turn his attention to the challenges that lie ahead.

"Italy doesn't have a minute to lose," he tweeted. "Immediately to work to overcome the health emergency and the economic crisis. Priority to vaccine plan and recovery plan."

Despite Conte seemingly trying to shrug off the crisis, the conflict has left him with a minority government and could make it difficult to pass crucial legislation. It also leaves the prime minister vulnerable to future parliamentary ambushes, especially as Italy fights to contain one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks.

Over the coming weeks, Conte and his supporters will likely try to recruit lawmakers, including former Christian Democrats, conservative and socialist deputies, as well as former 5-Star Movement (M5S) members and defectors from Renzi's camp, for their cause.

Political turmoil

The Senate cast their ballots a day after Conte survived a confidence vote in the country's lower house on Monday, where he and his government won the vote by 321 to 259 — a margin that was wider than expected.

Conte had appealed to pro-European lawmakers to support his fragile government or risk handing power to the nationalist right.

Previously, Renzi had said his party would "probably" abstain in Tuesday's vote — as it did on Monday. His party's vote against Conte would have made the chances of the Italian PM's survival even less likely.

Leading left and right

Conte was tapped by Italy's 5-Star Movement to lead the government after the 2018 general election resulted in a coalition of the M5S and Matteo Salvini's right-wing League party. In August 2019, the League submitted a motion of no confidence against Conte's coalition government. Conte had offered to step down as prime minister but the M5S and the PD agreed to form a new government with Conte staying on as leader.

Conte faces an unprecedented challenge to revive a ravaged economy, with parts of Italy currently under partial COVID-19 lockdown. He also needs to push a €220 billion ($196 billion) European Union recovery package through parliament.

"Sardines" movement against Salvini

mvb, jsi/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)