Italian PM Conte resigns following pandemic criticism

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has resigned – and it is not clear if he will be able to form and lead a new coalition government.

He has been criticised for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, in which more than 85,000 Italians have died.

Mr Conte met President Sergio Mattarella, who may ask him to form a stronger government. Last week he lost his Senate majority.

But someone else could become Italy’s PM, or a snap election could be called.

The law professor, who has headed two coalition governments since 2018, tendered his resignation to President Mattarella. And now Mr Conte is discussing the political crisis with Senate president Elisabetta Casellati.

Mr Conte survived a vote of confidence in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, last week. He then won a Senate vote, but without an absolute majority.

The lack of a majority threatens to stymie government action – hence the political shake-up.

The confidence vote was called after former PM Matteo Renzi pulled his small, liberal Italia Viva party out of the coalition and said he would only return if Mr Conte accepted a list of demands.

He objects to Mr Conte’s plans for spending €209bn (£186bn; $254bn) of EU recovery funds – part of a €750bn EU rescue for the Covid crisis.

Mr Renzi says EU funds should be invested in promising sectors like digital and green technologies, and he does not want technocrats, rather than MPs, deciding on the allocations.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) has said it will “remain at Conte’s side”.

His resignation comes ahead of a vote on judicial reforms later this week that MPs in his coalition warned he would lose.

‘The worst possible time’

And so Italy’s 66th government since World War Two comes to a close. A country of seemingly perennial political crises has chosen the worst possible time to face another – in the grip of a pandemic that has killed more than 85,000 Italians and unleashed the worst economic collapse in decades.

That’s why Giuseppe Conte may manage to come back with a new revamped government, arguing the need to avoid the turmoil of fresh elections at such a difficult time. Added to that, polls suggest an early vote would be won by the far right. So Mr Conte is hoping that the threat of losing their seats might tempt enough centrist politicians to jump the opposition ship and join a reformed coalition.

Italy’s 29th prime minister since the war is hoping to return as… Italy’s 29th prime minister since the war. But his opponents are circling. And he won’t have much time to convince parliament that he can become the new, stronger comeback kid.

BBC

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