Italian PM Conte seeks to stay in power with Senate vote

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is facing a second round of voting Tuesday to determine if he can hold onto power after a junior coalition partner pulled his party’s ministers from the government to protest Conte’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Conte on Monday won what amounted to a confidence vote in the lower Chamber of Deputies, securing a 321-to-259 victory in favor of his government with 27 abstentions, including from the defecting Italia Viva (Italy Alive) party of ex-Premier Matteo Renzi.

Conte went before the Senate on Tuesday to urge continued backing, but support in the upper chamber for his coalition government headed by the 5-Star Movement and Democratic Party is slimmer.

Even if Conte survives the vote, his already fragile coalition will be weakened. The opposition center-right is demanding an early election, but that option is considered the least likely outcome of the political crisis, given the difficulty of organizing a campaign and vote during a pandemic.

Renzi had forced the crisis last week after yanking his two ministers from the government, forcing Conte to try to scramble support from other parties or defectors from Renzi’s small centrist forces. In the end, Renzi’s Italia Viva deputies abstained from the Chamber vote and were expected to do the same in the Senate tally.

A key issue behind the political crisis is fighting over who gets to control the billions in pandemic relief funds that hard-hit Italy is expected to receive from the European Union.