Italy's PM Conte survives confidence vote

2021-01-20 12:05:05

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gestures as he speaks ahead of a confidence vote at the upper house of parliament after former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pulled his party out of government, in Rome, Italy, January 19, 2021. [Photo/Agencies] Italy's prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, narrowly won a confidence vote in the Senate on Tuesday that ensures he will remain in power. He did so after making an impassioned plea to lawmakers calling on them to support his government so it can steer the country through the devastating novel coronavirus pandemic. According to a preliminary, informal count, Conte won by 153 votes to 140, a margin of victory that was narrower than expected, although the result had not been confirmed at the time. Conte won a similar confidence motion in the lower house on Monday. In his speech earlier to Senate lawmakers, Conte called on them to repay the sacrifices of citizens during the pandemic by voting to back his government and overcome a political crisis provoked by a coalition partner withdrawing from government. "With today's vote, I trust that the institutions will be able to repay the trust of citizens in order to put behind us this great act of irresponsibility as soon as possible," Conte said. He gave almost the same speech to the upper house as he delivered on Monday to the Chamber of Deputies. In the earlier vote, he won by 321 votes to 259, securing an absolute majority. Conte had only a slim majority in the 321-seat Senate even before former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from the ruling coalition last week. "Numbers are important, today even more so. But even more important is the quality of the political project,'' Conte said before the vote. "We ask all the political forces to help us relaunch with the maximum speed and help us repair the damage to citizens' trust that the crisis has produced." Had the prime minister lost either of the votes, he would have been forced to resign, putting an end to a government he had led for 17 months that featured the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party. Conte did not need to secure an absolute majority to remain in office, he merely needed to win the vote, but leading a minority government would have put him in a more precarious position that securing a good majority. In looking to entice centrist lawmakers, Conte promised to revamp his policy agenda and shake up his Cabinet, vowing to modernize Italy and speed up implementation of a recovery plan. Renzi, who withdrew his party from the Cabinet due to a disagreement over Conte's handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis, said before the vote that his Italia Viva party would "probably" abstain in Tuesday's vote, as it did in the Chamber of Deputies. Agnese Ortolani from The Economist Intelligence Unit told the Politico website ahead of the vote that if Conte survived at the helm of a minority government, he would likely still face difficulties. "This would deliver an extremely fragile minority government which would be under pressure to secure external support to pass any pieces of legislation," she said. Agencies and Julian Shea in London contributed to this story.