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

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
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.

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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