As pandemic rages on, Italy PM Conte quits

Crisis triggered by Viva party’s withdrawal from coalition over his handling of the outbreak

January 26, 2021 10:06 pm | Updated 10:07 pm IST - Rome

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned on Tuesday in the hope of forming a new government after weeks of turmoil in his ruling coalition, leaving Italy rudderless as it battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

He tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, the ultimate arbiter of Italian political crises, who invited him to stay on in a caretaker capacity pending discussions on what happens next.

The uneasy coalition that has led Italy since September 2019 was fatally weakened earlier this month by the withdrawal of former premier Matteo Renzi’s small but crucial Italia Viva party.

Ahead of a key vote in Parliament this week that he looked set to lose, Mr. Conte informed his Cabinet on Tuesday that he would quit in what supporters said was a move to form a new government.

After the meeting with Mr. Mattarella, a spokesman for the President said he “reserves the right to decide (what to do next) and invited the government to stay in office in a caretaker capacity”.

Mr. Mattarella will open discussions with party leaders on Wednesday afternoon.

Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since suffered badly, with the economy plunged into recession and deaths still rising by around 400 a day.

Parts of the country remain under partial lockdown, the vaccination programme has slowed and a deadline is looming to agree plans to spend billions of euros in European Union recovery funds.

Seeking a new mandate

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, one of the leaders of the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), the largest in Parliament, earlier said it was time to rally around Mr. Conte.

“The country is going through one of its worst ever periods due to the pandemic,” he tweeted. “Now we need unity, we all have to gather around Giuseppe Conte.”

Mr. Conte’s government had been on the verge of collapse since Mr. Renzi pulled out on January 13 in a row over the premier’s handling of the pandemic.

The Prime Minister survived a vote of confidence in Parliament last week but failed to secure an overall majority in the upper house, the Senate.

“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.

Democratic Party (PD), the other main partner in the coalition, is so far is backing Mr. Conte.

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