Conte clears hurdle to retain power, bigger one ahead

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte won a crucial vote in Parliament’s Lower House on Monday night after a coalition defector’s lawmakers abstained in the balloting, but he must clear a much tougher hurdle less than 24 hours later in the Senate to hold on to power.

Lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies voted 321 to 259 in approval of Conte’s government, after the premier sought their backing to overcome a political crisis — lamenting that it had left Italian citizens bewildered in the midst of the pandemic. There were 27 abstentions.

Conte lost his coalition majority with the defection of Cabinet ministers belonging to former Premier Matteo Renzi’s tiny but key Italia Viva (Italy Alive) party, which threatened to collapse his government.

The open ballot in the Chamber was tantamount to a confidence vote on the government.

Conte’s chances of prevailing in the vote received an important boost when a lawmaker in Renzi’s party announced in Parliament after Conte’s speech that Italy Alive’s deputies would abstain in the balloting.

But a much tougher hurdle loomed yesterday in the Senate where Renzi’s party has 18 members, meaning Conte would seek support from outside his wobbly coalition to stay in power — even if Renzi’s party again abstains in that vote.

Even should Conte’s government survive in terms of numbers in Parliament, Renzi’s party pullout last week highlighted the coalition’s fragility. Conte would likely need backing from the thin ranks of centrists outside his coalition or the opposition to be able to get legislation passed, including vital economic measures to rescue an economy that was already stagnant before the pandemic pummelled it.

Renzi has faced harsh criticism for the power play during a pandemic that has killed more than 82,000 Italians.

But with billions of European Union (EU) recovery funds expected to flow into the country, he has defended the move as necessary to prevent Conte from amassing too much power.