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Early elections or ‘waste of time’? What does Italy’s latest political crisis mean?

With former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi threatening to bring down the coalition government, does a snap election in 2021 really look likely?

Early elections or 'waste of time'? What does Italy's latest political crisis mean?
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: Andrew Medichini/POOL/AFP

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has more than enough on his plate as he deals with the coronavirus pandemic, but he also faces the more immediate challenge of staying in office.

Despite a soaring Covid-19 death toll and with a deadline looming to come up with a plan to spend billions of euros in EU recovery funds, the government has been consumed for weeks by internal sniping from former prime minister Matteo Renzi.

Renzi has repeatedly threatened to withdraw his small but pivotal Italia Viva party from the centre-left coalition that Conte heads, which would force the government's collapse, in a row centred on the recovery fund.

“The situation is, in technical terms, a disaster,” the politician, who led Italy from 2014 to 2016, said in an interview with the Rete 4 channel broadcast late Monday.

Asked about the chances of Conte keeping his job, he said: “We'll see.”

Renzi has complained about various policies, including accusing Conte of setting spending priorities without enough consultation for
the 196 billion euros Italy expects to receive under the EU recovery plan.

Conte, a once-obscure law professor chosen as a compromise candidate for prime minister by the previous coalition government, has so far proven surprisingly adept at navigating the choppy waters of Italian politics.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus crisis 'strengthens' Italian PM Conte at home and abroad

He has been in office since 2018, first at the helm of a right-leaning administration comprising the M5S and the League.

That coalition collapsed a year later due to a power grab by league leader Matteo Salvini, but Conte stayed on at the head of a second coalition government between the M5S, PD and smaller allies.

Renzi's showdown with Conte is expected to come to a head in the coming days, when ministers meet to discuss the EU plans.

But does this sniping really mean anything for the stability of the Italian government?

Conte is expected by many commentators to try to placate Renzi with a cabinet reshuffle, either by persuading some ministers to step down, or by resigning himself to seek a new mandate from President Sergio Mattarella with a revised list of cabinet ministers.

The Italian media speculates that, aside from a reshuffle, a crisis could lead to Conte being reappointed to head a new government.

If Conte is ousted and politicians cannot agree on a successor, Mattarella could be forced to call snap elections – two years early.

Early elections would be nothing new or unusual in Italy.

But in any upcoming election, opinion polls point to likely victory for the right-wing opposition bloc, fronted by the anti-immigrant League.

Renzi's party meanwhile would risk being wiped out – they are currently polling at around three percent.

Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of the Teneo consultancy firm, said he expects a re-ordering of the coalition parties but for Conte to stay in power.

“The strength of the ruling coalition in Italy is its weakness — they know they cannot afford elections,” he told AFP. “I don't think this crisis will yield anything particularly meaningful.”

“It will just be another waste of time at the worst time possible for the country.”

Member comments

  1. A right wing victory, Renzi destroyed,Conte sent packing ,it sounds like great news ,fingers crossed.

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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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