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POLITICS

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.

READ ALSO:


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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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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