Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte resigns in tactical bid to form new coalition

Premier hopes to steer country as it battles pandemic and economic recession

Giuseppe Conte in his office at Chigi Palace, Rome
Giuseppe Conte in his office at Chigi Palace, Rome
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Italy’s prime minister has resigned after a key coalition ally withdrew its support over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Giuseppe Conte tended his resignation to the president, Sergio Mattarella, who held off on any immediate decision other than to ask him to keep the government running in the near term, Mr Mattaralla’s office said on Tuesday.

Mr Conte is hoping to get the president’s support to attempt to form a new coalition government that can steer the country as it battles the pandemic and an economic recession, along with creating a spending plan for the €209bn (£185bn) Italy is getting in European Union recovery funds.

He later made an impassioned appeal for opposition or unaligned politicians in the upper house Senate to give him the backing to form a new government of “national rescue”.

“It is time for the voices to emerge in parliament of those who care in their hearts about the future of the republic,” Mr Conte posted on Facebook, saying he wanted to form a government with “a broader and more secure majority”.

Mr Conte’s coalition government was thrown into turmoil earlier this month when a junior party headed by former-premier Matteo Renzi ended its support. Mr Conte won confidence votes in parliament last week, but fell short of an absolute majority in the senate, forcing him to take the gamble of resignation.

Mr Mattarella can ask him to try to form a broader coalition government, appoint a largely technical government to steer the country through the pandemic or dissolve parliament and call an election two years early.

The current coalition of the 5-Star Movement, Democratic Party and smaller Leu party is hoping for a third Conte government.

His first administration starting in 2018 was a 5-Star alliance with the right-wing League party led by Matteo Salvini that lasted 15 months. His second, with the Democrats, lasted 16 months.

Mr Salvini and centre-right opposition parties are clamouring for an early election, hoping to capitalise on polls before the government crisis that showed high approval ratings for the League and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party led by Giorgia Meloni.

The League chief has blasted the “palace games and buying and selling of senators” of recent days as Mr Conte has tried to find new coalition allies, claiming he is incapable of leading Italy through the crisis.

“Let’s use these weeks to give the word back to the people and we'll have five years of a serious and legitimate parliament and government not chosen in palaces but chosen by Italians,” Mr Salvini said on Monday.

Democratic leader Nicola Zingaretti said an early election is the last thing the country needs, tweeting: “With Conte for a new clearly European-centric government supported by an ample parliamentary base that will guarantee credibility and stability to confront the challenges Italy has ahead.”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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