Giuseppe Conte has three lives. The Italian Prime Minister began a new and difficult political stage on Tuesday by overcoming the motion of confidence to which he was submitted in the Senate by 156 votes in favor, 140 against and 16 abstentions, a tight result and achieved only thanks to the support of several senators for life and some opposition parliamentarians. After passing the examination in the Chamber of Deputies the day before, where he obtained an absolute majority, in the Upper Chamber Conte had to settle for a simple majority, which highlights the weakness of the Government, which will have to balance to try to survive until 2023, when the legislature ends as long as some other political crisis does not provoke snap elections.
This new phase will be the third experience in power for the prime minister, an unknown university professor for the vast majority of his compatriots until 2018, when the last elections were held. Conte first commanded a sovereignist and populist government formed by the coalition between the 5-Star Movement (M5E) and the League, which was blown up in August 2019 when the ‘league’ leader, Matteo Salvini, broke the alliance. Then came the so-called ‘Conte bis’, an Executive with a pro-European character supported by the M5E, the Democratic Party and two small formations: the leftist Free and Equal and the centrist Italia Viva, led by Matteo Renzi.
- Difficult balance.
The Government is now at the mercy of the senators of Italia Viva continuing to abstain
Matteo Renzi accused Conte of “castling” by seeking an alternative majority instead of leaving
The resignation last week of the two ministers of Renzi’s party opened the current crisis, forcing the Government to pass a vote of confidence in Parliament, where it remains without an absolute majority and at the mercy of the senators of Italia Viva continuing to abstain, as they did in the vote on Tuesday. Conte’s transformations to hold in power despite the ups and downs of the parties led Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing opposition formation Brothers of Italy, to humorously compare him to a barbapapá, the endearing doll that takes the shape that suits him best.
A thirteen hour session
The Government was saved in part thanks to the support of senators for life, a position with which Italy honors illustrious figures and former presidents of the Republic. Among them were former Prime Minister Mario Monti and Liliana Segre, a Holocaust survivor. At 90, Segre burst into the Upper House to applause from the senators, who honored her for participating in the session despite the fact that the doctors had recommended that she not leave home due to the risk of contagion of coronavirus. It was not bad advice, since the exhausting session lasted about 13 hours, with continuous controversies and even two senators who were trying to vote allegedly out of time. Conte also managed to add to his ranks a handful of legislators from groups outside the government coalition, including two from Forza Italia, although they were insufficient to reach the 161 votes that the absolute majority marks.
The prime minister requested the confidence of the members of the Senate with a speech almost identical to the one he read the day before in the Chamber of Deputies. He appealed to the “willful” to prop up a government that “must live up to it” and vindicated the European vocation and the rejection of sovereignty. He also assured that he will “strengthen” the cabinet and offered winks to minority groups, as when he promised to promote a new proportional electoral law. The harshest words were dedicated to Renzi. “It is difficult to govern with the one who sows mines and continually undermines the balance patiently reached between the coalition forces,” said the prime minister, warning of the danger that the political crisis “leads to anger or violence” on the part of citizens.
The leader of Italia Viva, for his part, accused him of “castling himself” by seeking an alternative majority in Parliament instead of resigning. He assured that his party had been “too patient” with the Government and affected Conte his changes of position with respect to his first Executive with Salvini, when he defended sovereignty and was proud of his harmony with US President Donald Trump. “When you are in politics, you can resign a position, but not an idea,” Renzi warned.