Italian Premier Fights for Support Ahead of Critical Senate Vote

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is doing everything he can to wrangle Senate support ahead of a crucial vote this week with the future of his government at stake.

Conte has been defying calls to quit since the defection earlier this month of Italy Alive, a junior coalition party led by former premier Matteo Renzi, and he still needs a handful of extra votes before a Senate ballot on the annual report of his justice minister, most likely Wednesday or Thursday. If his government is defeated, Conte’s position may become untenable.

Last week, the prime minister survived a confidence vote in the upper chamber, although he was five short of an outright majority. Italy Alive abstained to allow him to squeak through, but Renzi has said his senators will vote against Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede’s report.

The Senate decision will be “a key test,” said Francesco Galietti, founder of the political risk consultancy Policy Sonar. “If Bonafede goes down, Conte too will have a very hard time surviving.”

While the premier isn’t currently planning to quit and is continuing his recruitment efforts, he may change his mind if he fails to get enough senators onside before the vote, Corriere della Sera newspaper reported Sunday.

While some of the premier’s allies have raised the prospect of early elections to resolve the impasse, coalition leaders still sees this is an unlikely option, according to officials who asked not to be named discussing confidential talks.

Several coalition members are against going to the polls in the near future as they fear that a vote would usher in the center-right opposition led by Matteo Salvini. They have also cited the pandemic, a recession and the need to manage the European Union’s recovery package as reasons to avoid an election. Some lawmakers in the center-left Democratic Party are seeking to restart talks with Renzi to avoid an election, La Repubblica reported.

In this convoluted situation, there is a question hanging over Italy, which last year found itself at the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis.

Conte’s handling of the pandemic has boosted his standing with Italian voters, though his willingness to use emergency powers has made some allies uncomfortable, especially since he has never been elected. He was drafted in as a compromise figure after the 2018 failed to produce a clear result.

After five consecutive weeks of worrying increases, the rate of infection has slowed over the past seven days, though the country has still suffered almost 500 deaths each day and on Sunday 11,000 new cases were reported.

— With assistance by Chiara Remondini

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