What’s next for Italy after PM Conte’s resignation?

Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities Dario Franceschini and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during a debate in the Senate in Rome, Italy, 19 January 2021. Franceshini is among the possible Conte successors. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has resigned Tuesday (26 January) in the hope of forming a new government after weeks of turmoil in his ruling coalition, leaving Italy rudderless as it battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Italian politics is yet again entering uncharted waters, but this time in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 85,000 people and sparked a devastating recession.

Here are some of the possible ways out of the impasse.

Conte III

The crisis was triggered two weeks ago by ex-premier Matteo Renzi’s decision to quit the ruling centre-left coalition, depriving Conte of a solid parliamentary majority.

Italian government totters as Conte, Renzi divide deepens

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces a showdown with his coalition partner and former premier Matteo Renzi this week that could bring down his government even as it struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conte is now expected to seek from President Sergio Mattarella another mandate to lead what would be his third consecutive government since the 2018 general elections.

To succeed, he would need to bring Renzi’s Italia Viva party back on board, along with the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) — Conte’s main backers.

The PD has called for a new Conte government with a “wide parliamentary basis”, code for enlarging the coalition to include centrists currently in the opposition.

The idea is that this would curtail Renzi’s veto powers within the coalition. But it is unclear whether enough lawmakers are willing to make the jump.

Conte sacrificed

Renzi, who played a key role in the formation of Conte’s second government in 2019, has long made clear he no longer has confidence in the outgoing premier.

He may demand the appointment of a new leader as the price of his return within the government coalition. So far, Renzi has been biding his time.

Italian media suggest that a PD heavyweight, such as Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, or former M5S leader Luigi Di Maio could be offered the prime minister’s job.

Another possibility is naming an independent as premier, to prevent rows between the PD and M5S. According to the leftist La Repubblica daily, Conte could serve as a minister in such a cabinet.

Technocrats in charge

If the outgoing ruling coalition cannot be glued back together, Mattarella will likely ask a non-partisan figure to form a so-called national unity government.

Centrist backbenchers and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party might back it, while far-right opposition leaders Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni are unlikely to.

Such a government would be expected to pull Italy through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic and finalise the country’s application for European Union recovery funds, due by late April.

Italy is eligible for some €220 billion in loans and grants from Brussels, a massive cash boost crucial to its future prospects.

New elections

The current parliamentary term ends in March 2023, but Mattarella can call snap elections if the political crisis proves intractable — except during a six-month window starting from July.

Under the constitution, parliament cannot be dissolved in the last six months of a sitting president’s term, and Mattarella’s seven-year mandate ends in January 2022.

Current opinion polls suggest general elections would hand victory to a right-wing opposition bloc including Salvini’s League, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

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