Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Italy PM Giuseppe Conte resigns with parting shot at far-right Matteo Salvini

Elections may follow the resignation if a new coalition government cannot be formed

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is flanked by Deputy Prime Ministers Matteo Salvini and Welfare Minister Luigi Di Maio and Justiice Minister, Alfonso Bonafedeas as he addresses the Senate in Rome, Italy, 20 August 2019. EPA
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is flanked by Deputy Prime Ministers Matteo Salvini and Welfare Minister Luigi Di Maio and Justiice Minister, Alfonso Bonafedeas as he addresses the Senate in Rome, Italy, 20 August 2019. EPA

The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, has said he will resign after delivering a scathing attack on Tuesday against far-right Interior Minister and deputy leader Matteo Salvini.

Mr Conte was appointed last year to lead a coalition made up of Mr Salvini’s League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) after no party won an outright majority in Italy’s 2018 general election. A former lawyer with centre-left politics, Mr Conte was seen as a compromise candidate to steer the new government.

But tension between coalition members has risen in recent weeks, with immigration playing a central role in the debate.

Almost two weeks earlier, Mr Salvini called an end to the alliance and a move towards fresh elections.

In a speech addressing the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Conte lashed out at Mr Salvini, saying it was not in Italy’s interest to hold elections every year.

The Italian prime minister also accused his deputy of not appropriately responding to allegations that the so-called "Russiagate" case – that stated that the League sought illegal funding from Moscow.

Mr Conte warned Mr Salvini that it was "irresponsible to initiate a government crisis," adding that it "shows personal and party interests".

"I take this opportunity to announce that I will present my resignation as head of government to the president of the republic," he added.

The resignation Mr Conte has pre-empted Mr Salvini’s calls for vote of no-confidence in his government. In the coming days Italy's president Sergio Mattarella, will hold consultations with Italy's parliamentary parties to see if a new coalition can be formed. The opposition Democratic Party and M5S have reportedly been holding talks over a potential alliance to block Mr Salvini's path to power.

If the parliamentary arithmetic does not add up, Mr Mattarella will call the fresh elections Mr Salvini desires.

Mr Conte’s move to resign comes after months of infighting among governing parties in a fractured coalition. If a new government isn’t agreed upon, a fresh election may follow.

Tensions flared over the weekend when the usually soft-spoken Mr Conte accused Mr Salvini of being disloyal and “obsessed” with immigration, calling on his deputy to let minor migrants rescued in the Mediterranean disembark from a charity vessel anchored near the southern island of Lampedusa.

On 8 August at a rally for League, Mr Salvini said the coalition relationship with Five Star was becoming like divorcing parents and “must be divided”. League has soared ahead of Five Star Movement in opinion polls, mainly due to the former’s stance against illegal immigrants.

In the European elections in May, League won 34 per cent of the Italian vote, compared to 17 per cent obtained by Five Star.

Last Tuesday, the Senate rejected Mr Salvini’s call for a snap election, saying that they would delay discussing the matter until August 20.

At the time, former Italian prime minister Mario Monti said the deputy leader’s move was miscalculated as he would be unlikely to garner enough support to lead the country.

Updated: August 20, 2019 11:00 PM

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