Italian PM Conte survives confidence vote on government’s future

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday won a second confidence vote in the Senate, halting a bigger political crisis - but the government's future remains uncertain.

Italian PM Conte survives confidence vote on government's future
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte prior to the confidence vote at the Senate on Tuesday. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/POOL/AFP
Conte survived the second crucial vote of confidence in parliament, but his coalition government was left weakened after it failed to secure an overall majority.
The premier won by 156 votes to 140 in the Senate, the upper chamber, but fell short of the absolute majority of 161.

The ruling coalition has been in crisis since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party last week.

PROFILE: Who is Matteo Renzi, the 'wrecker' of Italian politics?

Conte has been desperately seeking the backing of opposition lawmakers to allow his coalition government, formed in 2019, to stay in power.

“The government has also got the confidence of the Senate. Now the goal is to make this majority even more solid. Italy doesn't have a minute to lose,” Conte tweeted on Tuesday night, shortly after the vote

Although the possibility of snap elections appears to be averted, at least for now, Conte's minority government has been weakened, and will be more vulnerable to attacks from the opposition in months ahead.

“Today's vote will not bring the crisis to an outright end,” wrote Wolfgango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy ahead of the vote.
“It remains unclear how such a weak and unwieldy coalition… can lead Italy out of the deepest economic crisis since World War II amid a pandemic.”

Conte's government won a first confidence vote late Monday in the lower house, but faced a tougher task persuading the Senate, where it lost its majority following Italia Viva's defection. 

In both speeches to the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, Conte appealed for support from lawmakers from “the highest European tradition – liberal, popular and socialist”.

A view of the Senate at Palazzo Madama in Rome prior to the confidence vote on January 19th. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino/POOL/AFP

Conte's coalition is made up of the former anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and a smaller leftist party.

READ ALSO: The words and phrases you'll need to understand Italian political discussionsIf

Conte will hope over the coming weeks to persuade a few renegade Christian Democrat, conservative and socialist lawmakers, as well as former M5S members and defectors from Renzi's side, to join them.

The knife-edge nature of the vote was demonstrated by the decision of some lawmakers to attend despite coronavirus restrictions.

Liliana Segre, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor and non-partisan lifetime senator, said she had contradicted her doctor's advice to travel from Milan to Rome to cast her vote for Conte.

'Difficult' Renzi

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the pandemic early in 2020 and has been one of the EU's hardest-hit countries.

It has been allocated a large share of a 750-billion-euro ($904 billion) European Union rescue fund, but Conte's 220-billion spending plan was a trigger for the current turmoil.

For weeks, Renzi had criticised Conte for his leadership style and his handling of the pandemic, and warned that he and M5S risked squandering the EU billions.

Critics in turn accused Renzi – whose Italia Viva party is polling at just three percent – of seeking to deliberately destabilise the government so he can play kingmaker.

Conte compared Renzi on Tuesday to “someone who constantly fills the common path with mines” and said he found it “very difficult” trying to govern while being under attack.

Member comments

  1. Conte is just unbelievable, no you haven’t got a majority you have 156 votes when you need 161 votes.
    What you do have is a weak and totally incapable government you should resign. Mattarella really should sort this out for the sake of Italy.

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Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.