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Italian PM resigns amid political crisis

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-27 07:20
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Giuseppe Conte arrives for a news conference at Palazzo Chigi in Rome on Dec 18. MAURO SCROBOGNA/LAPRESSE/AP

Conte's future may be determined by president's talks with party leaders

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned on Tuesday after almost two weeks of political instability, with the move coming amid speculation that he will seek to win a fresh mandate for a new government to confront a worsening coronavirus crisis.

Conte handed in his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella after a meeting with his ministers in the morning. Conte's office first issued a statement about the resignation late on Monday.

Mattarella will decide whether to accept his resignation and is likely to invite him to build a new governing majority. It means he needs to add five more senators to the existing coalition. He will hold two days of formal consultations with all the parties this week before deciding what to do next.

In the statement issued late on Monday, Conte's office had said: "The Council of Ministers is convened for tomorrow at 9 am, during which the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, will communicate to the ministers his will to go to the (Presidential Palace) and hand in his resignation".

Conte, who became prime minister on June 1, 2018, survived a confidence vote last week in the two chambers of the Italian parliament. But he lost his governing majority in the Senate after former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his small Italia Viva party's ministers from the coalition government on Jan 13. The lack of a majority in the parliament has made it difficult for Conte to carry on his duties.

Renzi has criticized Conte's handling of the pandemic crisis and his plans for spending 209 billion euros ($254 billion) out of a 750 billion euro recovery fund set up by the European Union. Italy is the main beneficiary of the fund, known as NextGenerationEU, due to the heavy hit it has taken during the pandemic.

Judicial reforms

Conte's resignation also came ahead of a vote on judicial reforms later this week that many believe his government would have lost.

His current coalition comprises mainly the populist Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party.

The ruling parties want to avoid snap elections, which opinion polls show would lead to victory for the center-right coalition of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini's far-right League party.

Berlusconi said on Monday he was trusting the "political wisdom" of Mattarella to indicate the way out of the crisis.

In a statement before the announcement from Conte's office, he said the solution would be a "new government that would represent substantial unity of the country in a moment of emergency", or an election would be required "to give back the (deciding) word to the Italian "voters.

The Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party have voiced their support for the prospect of a new coalition government led by Conte.

Five Star, on its Twitter account late on Monday, said: "The movement is there and it is ready to do its part. We stand by the side of@GiuseppeConteIT".

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, of the Five Star Movement, said in a tweet: "The country is going through one of the worst moments ever due to the pandemic and finds itself in an absurd government crisis due to someone's selfishness … We all have to gather around Giuseppe Conte."

Nicola Zingaretti, secretary of the Democratic Party, tweeted: "With Conte for a new government that is clearly pro-European and supported by a broad parliamentary base, which guarantees credibility and stability to face the great challenges that Italy faces."

Italy is among the countries worst hit in the COVID-19 crisis. The numbers of infections and deaths reached 2.47 million and 85,000, respectively, early on Tuesday.

Agencies contributed to the story.

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