Italy’s Conte Faces Senate Showdown After Win in Lower House

Giuseppe Conte’s ambition to continue as Italy’s prime minister faces a crucial test Tuesday with a confidence vote in the Senate, after hewon a similar vote in the lower house of parliament late Monday.

A narrow win in the Senate would allow the premier to stay in power, even if his support fell short of an outright majority. A defeat would force him to offer his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella.

Conte secured a comfortable majority in a confidence vote in the lower house Monday evening, securing votes of support from 321 of the 629 lawmakers.

The prime minister now faces the test of strength in the upper house in the wake of the defection of Italy Alive, a minor coalition party headed by ex-premier Matteo Renzi. Conte is determined to use all the room for maneuver available to him, according to people familiar with his thinking.

The 56-year-old premier and his allies are lobbying centrist and unaffiliated senators to back him, and there had been speculation in Rome that he might submit his resignation if he doesn’t secure an absolute majority of 161 votes on Tuesday.

Instead, Conte intends to dig in his heels and push ahead with his legislative agenda for some two weeks or more while he tries to secure further support, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations.

Conte’s hand could still be forced if he suffers a shock defeat in the Senate vote. The premier’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

The prime minister is still relying on his erstwhile ally for one thing: Italy Alive’s senators have pledged to abstain in Tuesday’s confidence measure rather than cast votes against the government.

That would lower the threshold for Conte to get the simple majority he needs to avoid being forced to resign. In that case, President Mattarella would oversee the process of forging a new government.

Fragile Foundation

Still, the back-room machinations point to a fragile foundation for governing beyond the short term. Italian law requires an absolute majority for passing certain categories of legislation, including budget measures.

Mattarella has pressured Conte to engineer a quick resolution to the problem, and has stressed the need for a stable majority if Conte is to remain in power, officials said.

The center-left Democratic Party, the second biggest force in Conte’s coalition, is also not writing the premier a blank check. A month or so of failed attempts to resolve the impasse would prompt the Democrats to push for early elections, a senior party official said.

Addressing lawmakers earlier Monday, Conte focused on decisions over spending Italy’s share of the European Union’s recovery fund — the issue that triggered Renzi’s pullout — and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The cabinet last week approved governmentplans to borrow an extra 32 billion euros ($39 billion) this year and parliament could endorse that measure as early as Wednesday, the people said.

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