Italy’s Conte struggles to secure support in Senate showdown

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ROME, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Efforts by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to build a new majority in parliament after a junior partner quit his coalition floundered at the weekend as several centrist lawmakers rejected his overtures.

Conte is due to address the lower house on Monday and the upper house, the Senate, on Tuesday about the political chaos, which was triggered by former premier Matteo Renzi, who objected to the government’s handling of the economic and coronavirus crises.

By pulling his small Italia Viva party from the government, Renzi effectively stripped Conte of his majority in the Senate, leaving him scrabbling to fill the hole by trying to persuade centrists in opposition ranks to join him.

He was dealt a blow on Saturday when three senators from the tiny UDC party said they had decided to remain within the centre-right bloc, which has called for Conte’s resignation and a snap election.

Complicating the situation, Renzi has said his 18 senators will probably abstain on Tuesday when the 321-seat upper house gets to vote on Conte’s future. If they do, the coalition will likely win the vote, but fall short of an absolute majority.

Previous governments have managed to limp on in similar circumstances, but it is not clear if President Sergio Mattarella, the key decision-maker in political crises, will give his blessing to such a scenario.

Further muddying the waters, the co-ruling Democratic Party (PD) is likely to push for a cabinet reshuffle and a renegotiation of the coalition pact, regardless of what happens on Tuesday, according to a PD official who declined to be named.

Italia Viva has said it will to return to the coalition if it wins concessions. “If he wants to, Conte can resolve this crisis this afternoon. He doesn’t even have to go to parliament,” party lawmaker Ettore Rosato told Sky Italia TV.

However, both the centre-left PD and its coalition ally, the 5-Star Movement, have said they want nothing more to do with Renzi, accusing him of betrayal.

5-Star is particularly scathing about Renzi and has categorically rejected his latest demand that Italy apply for a loan from the euro zone’s bailout fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to help its health service deal with COVID-19, which has killed almost 82,000 Italians.

Critics of the loan scheme say it could come with unwelcome conditions, and note that no other EU state has tapped the fund. (Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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