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Italy PM to quit Tuesday, seeking new govt

(Conte survived a parliamentary vote of confidence last week but failed to secure a majority in the Senate. Photo: AFP)

ROME, (AFP):- Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced he will resign Tuesday, in what media reports said was an attempt to build a new government after weeks of political turmoil.

He called a cabinet meeting for 9:00am (0800 GMT) when he “will inform the ministers of his desire to go to the Quirinale (President Sergio Mattarella’s office) to resign”, his office said.

Media reports suggest Conte will seek a mandate to form a new government to run Italy as it battles the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 85,000 people dead in the country and crippled the economy.

The ruling coalition has been teetering on the edge of collapse since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his small Italia Viva party on January 13.

Conte survived a parliamentary vote of confidence last week but failed to secure a majority in the Senate, the upper house, leaving his government severely weakened.

His resignation comes ahead of a key vote on judicial reforms later this week, which commentators suggest the government was on course to lose.

“Conte’s calculation is that by moving early, and thereby avoiding a humiliating defeat in the Senate later this week, he would increase his chances of securing a mandate from Mattarella to form a new government,” noted Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy.

He will likely then seek to widen support beyond his coalition, currently comprising mainly of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

“However, it is currently unclear whether Conte can succeed in such an effort,” Piccoli said.

He added that if he fails, the M5S and PD could “ditch Conte and look for another candidate” to head a new coalition government.

– Parties’ support –

The ruling parties are keen to avoid snap elections, which opinion polls suggest would lead to victory for the centre-right coalition comprising Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party.

Shortly before the resignation announcement, key figures in both M5S and the PD offered their support to a new Conte government.

“We remain at Conte’s side,” said a statement from M5S’s leaders in both parliamentary houses, Davide Crippa and Ettore Licheri.

“The transition to the so-called Conte ter (three) is now inevitable and is the only way out of this wicked crisis.”

Conte, a once obscure law professor, has been at the helm of two governments of different political persuasions since he took office following elections in 2018.

The first was a fractious coalition between M5S and Salvini’s League, which ended when the latter pulled out in August 2019.

Conte went on to preside over another unlikely coalition between M5S and the PD, two former sworn enemies.

PD leader Nicola Zingaretti tweeted that he was “with Conte for a new government that is clearly pro-European and supported by a broad parliamentary base”.

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the pandemic early in 2020 and remains one of the continent’s hardest-hit countries.

It has been allocated a large share of a 750-billion-euro ($910 billion) European Union rescue fund, but Conte’s 220-billion-euro 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.

He warned that he and M5S risked squandering the EU billions on vote-winning handouts rather than addressing structural issues.

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