D-day for Italian government as PM Conte expected to resign

The fate of Italy's government is to be decided on Tuesday with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expected to resign after almost two weeks of political turmoil.

D-day for Italian government as PM Conte expected to resign
Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (R) talks with Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on August 14. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini triggered the crisis on August 8 by suddenly withdrawing his League party's support for the government it is part of.

Conte is due to speak in the Senate at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) following a week of fallout from Salvini's dramatic decision, which plunged the eurozone's third-largest economy into turmoil.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, attempted to trigger early elections last week, which polls suggest his League party and right-wing allies could win.

But his attempt was thwarted last week, and he now has his sights set on calling a vote of no confidence today.

His anti-immigrant League party has been soaring in opinion polls during months of squabbling over key policy decisions with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). 

After Conte makes a speech, widely expected to be scathing of Salvini's behaviour, he could then offer his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella. 

If he does not, Salvini will push for a vote of no-confidence.

Both scenarios could put an end to Italy's 65th post-war government, just 14 months after coming to power, and officially open the way for consultations to find a replacement.

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

The political crisis has raised concerns about the Italian economy, whose debt ratio, at 132 percent of gross domestic product, is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.

Since the unwieldy government was formed in June 2018, uncertainty under the coalition has cost the country an extra five billion euros in interest on its debt, the Il Sole 24 Ore financial daily said on Monday.

A snap election – more than three years early – could theoretically happen as early as the end of October and allow Salvini to capitalise on polls suggesting the League might get 36-38 percent of votes.

Salvini addressing a chaotic senate session on August 14. Photo: AFP

Salvini could be crowned prime minister, with the League looking at a potential coalition with the far-right Fratelli d'Italia, and possibly Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia. 

Ever present on social media, Salvini has been taking his political campaign to the beaches at the height of the summer holiday season, his beach party selfies only seeming to increase his popularity.

But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini's bid for power, with a coalition between the M5S and the opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) being discussed.

Triggering the government crisis has so far played out badly for Salvini, whose demands were not met last week in a rowdy senate session after senators were called back from recess.

While there is bad blood between the two parties with both trading insults in the past years, M5S is now languishing in the polls and wants to avoid an early election.


Romano Prodi, the former centre-left premier and ex-president of the European Commission, has also proposed a unity government from different parts of the political spectrum involving M5S, the PD and Forza Italia. 

After a year of anti-EU rhetoric from Salvini, Prodi said the new coalition would allow a “reintegration of Italy as an active member of the European Union”.

'Untrustworthy traitor'

Caught on the back foot, Salvini has sought to re-establish some ties and said he would be willing to back a M5S proposal to cut the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605, but only if new elections were then swiftly held.

He was furious at the idea of being squeezed out by a M5S-PD alliance, saying he would get his supporters to “peacefully take to the streets” if it came about.

Salvini has also softened his tone regarding the premier, saying: “Conte remains my prime minister and my phone is always on.”

But M5S founder, comedian Beppe Grillo, on Sunday gathered senior figures at his country house and rejected talk of reconciliation with Salvini, whom he reportedly described as an “untrustworthy traitor”.

The uneasy coalition government has long been mired with tensions and disagreements on key policy issues, and very few political analysts expected it to last the full term.

The usually soft-spoken Conte last week said that Salvini was “obsessed” with immigration, calling on his deputy to let migrants rescued in the Mediterranean disembark from a charity vessel now anchored near the southern island of Lampedusa.

READ ALSO: Is Italy's League a 'far-right' party?

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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.