Italy’s Conte wins confidence vote by narrow margin
Prime minister clings to power but now leads a weakened government.
ROME — Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte won the backing of the upper house of parliament on Tuesday, leaving him clinging to power but with a weakened, minority government.
Conte won a majority in a vote of confidence in the Senate, but fell short of an absolute majority.
After weeks of infighting, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi triggered the vote, pulling his centrist Italia Viva party out of the governing coalition and plunging Italy into political chaos. Renzi blamed differences over the country’s post-coronavirus economic recovery plan.
Conte, who is not a member of a political party but leads a coalition of the anti-establishment 5Star Movement and the leftist Democratic Party, won the Senate vote by 156 to 140, after appealing to senators to ensure stability as the country struggles through an economic and health crisis. He needed 161 votes for an absolute majority. Most senators in Renzi’s Italia Viva abstained, which was critical for Conte’s survival.
Earlier Tuesday, Conte made an emotive appeal to senators, pleading for support and saying a political crisis at this time was “incomprehensible” to ordinary Italians. “This country deserves a cohesive government to work for its people and favor an economic recovery. There is a lot of urgent work to do … to make the country safe and bring it out of pandemic.”
He called for lawmakers from “pro-European, liberal, socialist forces” to work together against nationalist parties, offering to bring in a proportional representation system that would help small centrist parties and hinted at a Cabinet reshuffle.
The vote removes the immediate threat to his position but he will likely need to enlarge his majority by persuading senators from Italia Viva and independents to join the ruling coalition. Conte was supported by senators without political alignment as well as two senators from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and one from Italia Viva.
Political analyst Wolfango Piccoli of Teneo said Conte was now leading “an extremely precarious governing arrangement that would risk collapse at any divisive vote in the coming months.
“Policymaking is set to become even more complicated as the government will often find itself at the mercy of the opposition’s benevolence,” Piccoli said.
Daniele Albertazzi, a researcher in European politics at the University of Birmingham, said the government had been left “very weak.”
“Conte may have to go back and talk to Renzi,” he said.