Italian Senate backs beleaguered PM

Rome, Jan 19 (efe-epa).- Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte received support Tuesday from the Italian Senate in his bid to remain in power at the head of a coalition weakened last week by the sudden departure of former Premier Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva party.

Senators voted 156-140 to back the current administration whose largest components are the reformist 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party (PD).

Sixteen members of the 321-seat body abstained and Conte fell five votes short of an absolute majority, meaning that it will be up to Italian President Sergio Mattarella to decide whether to let the government continue, ask the prime minister to form a new administration or call early elections.

The pro-Conte bloc could grow in the coming days, as one M5S senator missed Tuesday’s session due to Covid-19.

Senators from the M5S, PD and the small leftist party LeI all voted for retaining the incumbent prime minister, joined by two lawmakers from Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia and several members of the centrist “Mixed Group.”

At least three of the six life senators – former President Giorgio Napolitano and five distinguished public figures – also supported Conte.

Conte survived a motion of no confidence in the lower house on Monday by a vote of 321-259 with 27 abstentions, enough for an absolute majority.

But he does not enjoy the same level of support in the Senate and he addressed the body earlier Tuesday in hopes of convincing pro-European legislators to vote in favor and avoid a government collapse in the midst of a global pandemic.

“This today is a fundamental passage in the institutional life of our country,” Conte said. “The numbers are important, but even more important is the quality of the political project.”

“The country has united with the pandemic, with its suffering,” he said. “The government’s sense of unity has increased. The reasons to be together have increased.”

As he did in his speech to the lower house on Monday, Conte listed his government’s achievements before the political crisis triggered by Renzi’s sudden withdrawal from the coalition – which the premier called “senseless” and “irresponsible” – over disagreements about the pandemic response and recovery plan.

Conte called for an alliance that would support a pro-European vision and cautioned against siding with “nationalist tendencies and sovereigntist aspirations”, in a pointed reference to Euro-skeptic right-wing opposition parties, such as former Interior Minister Matteo Savini’s League and the Brothers of Italy.

One of the life senators, 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, braved the pandemic to make the trip from Milan to Rome on Tuesday to support the Conte government.

Two other senators-for-life, former Prime Minister Mario Monti and scientist Elena Cattaneo likewise voted “yes.” EFE lsc-ccg/ks-dr

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