Italian Premier Mario Draghi won a confidence vote in the Senate on Thursday, but the future of his government was in doubt after the populist 5-Star Movement boycotted the vote, throwing his coalition into crisis.
The vote was 172-39, but 5-Stars senators were absent after confirming they would not participate in the vote on a relief bill for soaring energy costs.
Draghi is expected to meet later Thursday with President Sergio Mattarella to decide on the next steps.
Draghi's broad government of national unity was formed in February 2021 with parties on the right and left to help Italy recover from the COVID pandemic.
However, the M5S leadership has been complaining for weeks about the government's priorities and demanding more generous financial help for families and businesses hit hardest by high energy costs. M5S lawmakers also want funding to continue for a guaranteed salary for people unable to find work.
The head of Italy's 5-Star Movement (M5S) Giuseppe Conte announced on Wednesday that his party's lawmakers won't participate in the votes on a series of measures to help Italians withstand the economic crisis, which were also tied to a motion of confidence.
M5S have said they will pull out of the coalition if Draghi doesn't meet their demands, but in response, Draghi said he wouldn't act on "ultimatums" - and said he would leave office if the 5-Star Movement pulls out of the government.
The centre-right, which has done well in recent local and administrative elections and has been leading the polls, has said early elections would be the only solution if the 5-Star senators abstain from a confidence motion of their own government.
Conte -- Draghi's predecessor -- insisted he still supported the Italian Prime Minister and would work to find solutions to the M5S demands.
But, he added, “We have asked for a change in the exclusive interest of citizens.”
The M5S won the last parliamentary elections in 2018 with 32% of the vote and a relative majority in parliament but has since fallen in the polls and many of its elected representatives have left.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio recently broke from the Movement over the populists’ stance, forming his own party with 50 former M5S lawmakers.
Italian politicians are mindful of holding an election campaign as it prepares the 2023 budget and faces the consequences of the war in Ukraine. Early elections in the Autumn could also undermine Rome's efforts to secure €200 billion in European Union funds.
Amid the threat of the government dissolving, some MPs have condemned Conte.
Being in a government “is not like picking up a menu and deciding, antipasto, no, gelato, yes,″ said Emma Bonino, who leads a tiny pro-Europe party.
Others argued in the Senate that a collapse of Draghi’s government could trigger “the destabilisation of Europe.”
“You’d be doing a favour to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Senator Antonio Saccone.
The European Union Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni -- a former Italian prime minister -- said the bloc was monitoring developments in Rome with "worried astonishment".