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Chaotic Italian senate session rejects Salvini’s call for no-confidence vote

The League party's demands for an early election aren't being met, as a rowdy Italian Senate on Tuesday rejected the call for a swift no-confidence vote.

Chaotic Italian senate session rejects Salvini's call for no-confidence vote
League leader Matteo Salvini speaking in the Italian senate on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's anti-migration League party had called for the vote after he withdrew support for the coalition government – which the League is part of – last week.

But a majority of senators from former coalition partners the Five Star Movement (M5S) and from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) opposition rejected the motion.

READ ALSO: Government crisis: is Italy heading for early elections?

Instead, lawmakers approved an M5S-PD motion calling for a debate next week during which Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte would address the Senate.

Senators were recalled at the height of the holiday season after political groups on Monday failed to agree on a timetable for the vote demanded by Salvini

He kicked off Tuesday's debate with a stunning U-turn, offering to back a key parliamentary reform of the M5S, after saying last week that he could no longer work with them.

In exchange, the anti-establishment M5S was supposed to back his call for swift elections despite the League's withdrawal from the increasingly acrimonious alliance.

Before and after he spoke, the room descended into chaos as senators shouted over one another and the President of the Senate begged for calm.

While the government is still in place, the Senate decides whether to initiate a no-confidence vote in the 14-month-old administration led by Conte, an independent approved by co-deputy prime ministers Salvini and M5S leader Luigi Di Maio last year.

After little support emerged for Salvini's call for a no-confidence motion in the Senate, he offered Tuesday to support the M5S reform that would slash the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605.

“Let's vote the cut of 345 parliamentarians and then let's hold an election immediately,” Salvini suggested during the noisy Senate session.

READ ALSO: Matteo Salvini, Italy's rebranded nationalist sharing power with former enemy

Di Maio, who is not a senator, welcomed Salvini's offer to back the M5S reform, but said it was up to President Sergio Mattarella to decide on elections.

“The country has been waiting for years. Next week we cut 345 parliamentarians,” Di Maio said on Facebook.

“I am still seriously worried about millions of Italian families and the risk of an increase in VAT.”

The M5S, PD and other parties have been holding talks on a transitional government to pass the parliamentary reform and next year's budget to avoid an automatic rise in value-added tax that would hit the least well-off the hardest.

(L-R) Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and League leader Matteo Salvini.Photo: AFP

Di Maio also took a swipe at Salvini, noting that he had referred to his former political partner as a “friend” during the Senate debate.

“Friendship is a serious thing, it is a fundamental value in life, extraordinary. And above all, true friends are always loyal,” Di Maio said.

Salvini had wanted a vote on the government's future to take place as early as Wednesday and for elections to follow in October, in order to capitalise on his party's current popularity.

Opinion polls are suggesting the League could garner 36-38 percent of votes, which would allow it to pick and choose partners for a future government.

Potential new alliances

Matteo Renzi, who was PD premier from 2014-16, warned Tuesday that snap elections would be a “disaster” that would plunge Italy into recession.

“Lawmakers must say today that Salvini is in the minority,” Renzi said shortly before the debate, suggesting that even League leaders were surprised at how badly the crisis has unfolded for them. 

“We have the chance to turn the page,” Renzi said, extending a hand to the M5S for a new coalition.

Both the PD and M5S are divided on whether to form an improvised alliance, something the PD refused to do after May's elections, prompting the unwieldy M5S-League coalition.

Salvini is also seeking allies, both in the Senate and for possible elections, from former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the post-fascist Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni.

Those parties could not provide the support Salvini needs in the Senate, however.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Three ways Italy's latest political crisis could unfold

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ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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