Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to step down on Tuesday and try to form a new coalition government to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 85,000 people in Italy and paralyzed the economy.
Conte survived a vote of confidence last week after a coalition partner withdrew but has been left severely weakened and his resignation bid is seen as an attempt to avert a humiliating defeat in the Senate later this week.
Conte has called for a government meeting at 9.00 (08.00 GMT), when he “will inform ministers of his desire … to resign”, his office said late Monday.
Media reports suggest that Conte will seek a mandate to form a new government to replace a ruling coalition that has been on the verge of collapse since former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his small Italia Viva party on January 13.
Italy was the first European country to meet the full force of the pandemic in early 2020 and has the sixth highest number of deaths worldwide.
Three regions have been ordered back to near-lockdown as new cases increase and a national vaccination program was hit when pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said on January 15 that it would delay the transport of jabs.
Conte survived Parliament’s vote of confidence but failed to secure a majority in the Senate, the upper house, leaving his government severely hampered.
His resignation comes before a new vote on legal reform later this week, which commentators suggest the government was about to lose.
“Conte’s calculation is that by moving early and thereby avoiding a humiliating defeat in the Senate later this week, he would increase his chances of securing a mandate from Mattarella to form a new government,” said Wolfango Piccoli of consulting firm Teneo.
He will probably then try to expand support beyond his coalition, which currently consists mainly of the populist five-star movement (M5S) and the center-left Democratic Party (PD).
“However, it is currently unclear whether Conte can succeed in such an attempt,” Piccoli said.
He added that if he failed, M5S and PD could “ditch Conte and look for another candidate” to lead a new coalition government.
The support of the parties
The ruling parties are keen to avoid quick elections, which opinion polls suggest would lead to victory for the center-right coalition, which consists of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s far – right League Party.
Just before the farewell announcement, key figures in both M5S and PD offered their support to a new Conte government.
“We remain on Conte’s side,” said a statement from M5S’s leader in both houses of Parliament, Davide Crippa and Ettore Licheri.
“The country is going through one of the worst periods ever due to the pandemic,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Twitter.
“We all need to gather around Giuseppe Conte.”
Conte, a once obscure law professor, has been at the helm of two governments of different political nuances since taking office after the 2018 election.
The first was a split coalition between M5S and Salvini’s league, which ended when the latter withdrew in August 2019.
Conte went on to lead another unlikely coalition between M5S and PD, two previously sworn enemies.
PD leader Nicola Zingaretti tweeted that he was “with Conte for a new government that is clearly European and supported by a broad parliamentary base”.
It has been allocated a large share of a € 750 billion ($ 910 billion) rescue fund, but Conte’s € 220 billion expenditure plan served as a trigger for the current turmoil.
For several weeks, Renzi had criticized Conte for his leadership style and his handling of the pandemic.
He warned that he and M5S risk wasting EU billions on voting dividends rather than addressing structural issues.