Italy PM Conte wins crucial Senate vote to stay in power

 ROME, Jan 20 (NNN-AGENCIES) —Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has won a crucial vote to stay in power – days after former PM Matteo Renzi pulled his party out of the coalition.

The vote in the Senate – 156-140, with 16 abstentions – means, however, that Conte does not have an absolute majority in the upper chamber.

Opposition parties say they plan to ask President Sergio Mattarella to intervene to force him to resign.

Conte, a law professor, has led a centrist coalition since 2018.

The main parties in his coalition are the anti-establishment Five Star (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

The prime minister told the Senate it was vital to maintain political cohesion faced with the “historic challenge” of the pandemic.

Speaking in the Senate debate, Renzi told Conte to make bolder reforms, saying “Italy is wasting its biggest opportunity since the Marshall Plan” – a reference to the US aid for war-shattered Europe in 1948. He accused Conte of being preoccupied with distributing government posts.

Even if Conte had lost the vote, a snap election was not a certainty as President Mattarella still has the option of inviting him to assemble a new coalition.

On Monday he won a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house – by 321 to 259, securing an absolute majority there.

Renzi objects to Conte’s plans for spending €209bn of EU recovery funds – part of a €750bn EU rescue for the Covid crisis.

The former prime minister wants investment in the digital economy and green energy, and rejects Conte’s plan to let technocrats, rather than MPs, decide spending priorities. Italy has had plenty of minority governments before, but that outcome would leave Conte weaker at a time of national emergency, with Italians struggling under partial lockdown.

Addressing senators, Conte said: “It’s very hard to govern in these conditions, with people who continuously place mines in our path and try to undermine the political balance patiently reached by the coalition”.

Italy has recorded 82,554 deaths linked to coronavirus – the second-highest official toll in Europe after the UK. It has more than 25,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19.

Italy was the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe last March, and its tranche of the new EU recovery package is the largest.

Renzi’s Italia Viva, formed in 2019, polls less than 3% currently, and surveys suggest that right-wing parties would come top in a snap election, were one to be called two years ahead of schedule.

So it’s another political crisis in a country that’s seen 66 governments since 1945. Exactly what it didn’t need as it battles through coronavirus. — NNN-AGENCIES