Italian premier Mario Draghi has won a confidence vote in the Senate, but it was a hollow victory after boycotts by three of his key coalition allies in the voting virtually doomed any prospects for his unity government’s survival.
The vote on Wednesday went 95-38 in the favour of Draghi’s government in the 315-member Senate after lawmakers deserted the roll call in droves.
The rapid unravelling of Draghi’s 17-month-old coalition could prompt President Sergio Mattarella to dissolve parliament, opening the path to holding an early election, possibly as soon as late September.
Just before the vote, representatives of the populist 5-Star Movement, the conservative forces of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party, and right-wing senators of Matteo Salvini’s Lega (League) party announced they would skip the roll call.
Last week, Draghi had offered to step down after losing support from the 5-Star Movement, a major coalition partner. But Mattarella rebuffed the offer, asking him to go back to parliament to gauge his support.
After hours of debate on his fate on Wednesday, Draghi asked the Senate to vote on a confidence measure calling on him to keep on governing.
“The only way, if we want to stay together, is to rebuild this pact, with courage, altruism and credibility,” Draghi said in an uncompromising speech to the Senate, adding that many Italians wanted the coalition to carry on until elections due early next year.
Draghi had said repeatedly he saw no other governing alternative than the unusually broad coalition he led.
The crisis comes at a tough time for debt-laden Italy, the third-largest economy in the eurozone, where borrowing costs have risen sharply as the European Central Bank starts tightening its monetary policy.
In early 2021, Mattarella had tapped Draghi to form a government of national unity, grouping parties from the right, left and the 5-Star Movement to guide Italy through its economic reboot amid the pandemic and reforms linked to some 200 billion euros ($203.6bn) in European Union recovery funds.
European Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Twitter that the “irresponsible” move against Draghi could lead to a “perfect storm” and “difficult months ahead” for Italy.
The head of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the only large party in the ruling coalition to back Draghi in the confidence vote, said parliament had gone against the will of the people.
“In these days of folly, Parliament decides to go against Italy,’’ tweeted Enrico Letta. “Italians will show themselves at the ballot box to be wiser than their representatives.”
In the last week, 14,000 mayors, an association of doctors, other lobbying groups and tens of thousands of citizens signing “Draghi stay” petitions have urged him not to step down.
In recent weeks, Draghi faced repeated ultimatums from 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, his predecessor in the premiership, as conditions for staying in the government. The populists have criticised Italian military help for Ukraine, as did Salvini. That prompted one lawmaker last week to describe Draghi’s likely impending departure as “a gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Assuming Draghi tenders his resignation again, Mattarella could hold a round of consultations with party leaders before deciding his next move.
The president could see if parties might agree to a short-lived, limited government by a non-political figure, like the current finance minister, to help ensure that lawmakers could pass the annual budget, whose first draft is due in mid-October. But with a raft of Italian parties already proclaiming themselves ready for an early election, that appeared unlikely.
Opinion polls of voters have indicated neck-to-neck percentages for Letta and Giorgia Meloni, who leads the far-right Brothers of Italy party, the main opposition party now. If Meloni stays teamed up with her traditional allies, Salvini and Berlusconi, in an election alliance, she stands a good chance of clinching her goal of becoming Italy’s first female premier.
Letta’s Democrats had been counting on an election alliance with the 5-Stars, but the split over the confidence vote makes that difficult.
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