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POLITICS

Early elections or ‘waste of time’? What does Italy’s latest political crisis mean?

With former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi threatening to bring down the coalition government, does a snap election in 2021 really look likely?

Early elections or 'waste of time'? What does Italy's latest political crisis mean?
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: Andrew Medichini/POOL/AFP

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has more than enough on his plate as he deals with the coronavirus pandemic, but he also faces the more immediate challenge of staying in office.

Despite a soaring Covid-19 death toll and with a deadline looming to come up with a plan to spend billions of euros in EU recovery funds, the government has been consumed for weeks by internal sniping from former prime minister Matteo Renzi.

Renzi has repeatedly threatened to withdraw his small but pivotal Italia Viva party from the centre-left coalition that Conte heads, which would force the government's collapse, in a row centred on the recovery fund.

“The situation is, in technical terms, a disaster,” the politician, who led Italy from 2014 to 2016, said in an interview with the Rete 4 channel broadcast late Monday.

Asked about the chances of Conte keeping his job, he said: “We'll see.”

Renzi has complained about various policies, including accusing Conte of setting spending priorities without enough consultation for
the 196 billion euros Italy expects to receive under the EU recovery plan.

Conte, a once-obscure law professor chosen as a compromise candidate for prime minister by the previous coalition government, has so far proven surprisingly adept at navigating the choppy waters of Italian politics.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus crisis 'strengthens' Italian PM Conte at home and abroad

He has been in office since 2018, first at the helm of a right-leaning administration comprising the M5S and the League.

That coalition collapsed a year later due to a power grab by league leader Matteo Salvini, but Conte stayed on at the head of a second coalition government between the M5S, PD and smaller allies.

Renzi's showdown with Conte is expected to come to a head in the coming days, when ministers meet to discuss the EU plans.

But does this sniping really mean anything for the stability of the Italian government?

Conte is expected by many commentators to try to placate Renzi with a cabinet reshuffle, either by persuading some ministers to step down, or by resigning himself to seek a new mandate from President Sergio Mattarella with a revised list of cabinet ministers.

The Italian media speculates that, aside from a reshuffle, a crisis could lead to Conte being reappointed to head a new government.

If Conte is ousted and politicians cannot agree on a successor, Mattarella could be forced to call snap elections – two years early.

Early elections would be nothing new or unusual in Italy.

But in any upcoming election, opinion polls point to likely victory for the right-wing opposition bloc, fronted by the anti-immigrant League.

Renzi's party meanwhile would risk being wiped out – they are currently polling at around three percent.

Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of the Teneo consultancy firm, said he expects a re-ordering of the coalition parties but for Conte to stay in power.

“The strength of the ruling coalition in Italy is its weakness — they know they cannot afford elections,” he told AFP. “I don't think this crisis will yield anything particularly meaningful.”

“It will just be another waste of time at the worst time possible for the country.”

Member comments

  1. A right wing victory, Renzi destroyed,Conte sent packing ,it sounds like great news ,fingers crossed.

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POLITICS

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass
immigration.

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.

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