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Italy's Senate to hold crucial vote to determine future of Giuseppe Conte's government

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks during his final address at the Senate prior to a confidence vote, in Rome, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte speaks during his final address at the Senate prior to a confidence vote, in Rome, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will face a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday evening, seeking the Senate's support for his teetering government as it battles a deadly coronavirus pandemic.

He is fighting for political survival after former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pulled his party's support from the government last Wednesday.

After winning a confidence vote in the lower house on Monday, Conte will try to repeat the feat in the upper chamber. Whereas in the Chamber of Deputies the coalition parties — the Democratic Party (PD) and the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) — have a majority, in the Senate they lack some 15 votes on paper.

The prime minister needs to win votes from centrists and non-aligned parties to try to compensate for Renzi's departure.

"In all probability, Conte will obtain the confidence of the Senate," said Giovanni Orsina, head of the Luiss School of Government in Rome. "That means that the Conte government will probably survive, but with a reduced majority, so with a much weakened position in parliament."

In that scenario, Giuseppe Conte's position at the head of government would not be threatened in the short term, but his margin for manoeuvre risks being significantly reduced, at a time when Italy is facing its worst economic recession in the post-war period because of the pandemic that has killed more than 82,000 people in the country.

"The future of the country will depend on the choices each person makes in these grave moments," he warned lawmakers in parliament on Monday.

Matteo Renzi, who was prime minister from 2014-2016, has said he will likely abstain in the vote. This could maintain Conte in power but might only delay an inevitable crisis.

The former leader's Italia Viva party accuses Conte of using the pandemic to centralise power and not doing enough on certain issues including education, infrastructure and the management of the pandemic. It also opposes Conte's plans to spend the €209 billion the country will receive from the European Union to revive the economy hit hard by COVID-19.

Renzi also complains of being ignored by Conte and demands more say in his government. Critics in turn accused him of undermining stability for political gain.

If no workable government emerges, one possibility would be for Italy to hold snap elections. But an important factor in the parties' calculations is that opinion polls point to victory for a coalition on the right between Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's far-right League party.

Watch Giorgia Orlandi's report from Italy in the player at the top.