Italian PM Conte to resign on Tuesday ‘to seek new mandate’

Media reports describe move as a bid by embattled leader to build a new coalition government after weeks of political turmoil.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte intends to hand in his resignation to the president on Tuesday after a morning cabinet meeting to inform his ministers, according to his office.

The prime minister, who has been in office since June 2018, hopes President Sergio Mattarella will give him a mandate to form a new government with broader backing in Parliament, according to media reports.

Conte lost his majority in the upper-house Senate last week when the centrist Italia Viva party led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi quit the country’s coalition government in a dispute over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession.

The prime minister’s office said in a statement Conte “will inform his ministers of his intention to resign” at a meeting convened for 9am (08:00 GMT). “He will then go to see President Sergio Mattarella,” it added.

Mattarella, as head of state, can accept the resignation, possibly asking the prime minister to try to form a more solid coalition that can command a majority in Parliament. The president could also reject the offer. But he has frequently stressed the need for the nation to have solid leadership as it struggles with the pandemic, with its devastating effects on Italy’s long-stagnant economy.

Conte, a lawyer and university professor, has led a long-bickering centre-left coalition for 16 months. Before that, for 15 months, he headed a government still with the populist Five Star Movement, the parliament’s largest party, but in coalition with the right-wing League party of Matteo Salvini. That first government collapsed when Salvini withdrew his support in a failed bid to become prime minister himself.

Italy has had 66 governments since World War II and administrations are regularly ripped up and then pieced back together in tortuous, behind-the-scenes talks that open the way for cabinet reshuffles and policy reviews.

However, once a prime minister resigns, there is no guarantee that a new coalition can form, and always a risk that early elections might end up as the only viable solution.

Earlier, MPs in the prime minister’s own coalition warned he would face defeat in Parliament this week in a vote over a contested report on the justice system, which could only be averted by handing his resignation.

Conte had resisted resigning so far for fear that he might not be reappointed. Instead, he tried to draw wavering senators into his camp with vague promises of a new government pact and possible ministerial positions.

However, his efforts have floundered and MPs from the co-ruling Democratic Party (PD) said he needed to stand down and open formal negotiations in order to win time to create a new coalition.

Trying to allay his fears of a political imbroglio, PD MPs said they would support him to lead a new cabinet.

No affiliation

Conte has no direct party affiliation but is close to the largest coalition group, the Five Star Movement.

Shortly before the announcement on Conte’s resignation, Five Star said it would stand by Conte.

“We remain at Conte’s side,” said a statement from the party’s leaders in both parliamentary houses, Davide Crippa and Ettore Licheri.

It has also made clear that it does not want any attempt at reconciling with Renzi.

“He is a problem and cannot be part of the solution,” said Stefano Patuanelli, industry minister and a Five Star politician.

Renzi has indicated he would return to the coalition on the condition that Conte accepted a string of demands.

Looking to put pressure on waverers, the main ruling parties have warned that snap elections – two years ahead of schedule – will be the only way out of the impasse unless a solution is rapidly found.

A recent reform cut by one-third the number of parliamentary seats up for grabs at the next national ballot, meaning that many of the current MPs are unlikely to win re-election, whatever the result.

This means that there will be no rush in Parliament for a vote, putting pressure on party leaders to find a compromise.


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