Italian PM Draghi wins vote but his unity govt is in peril

AP , Wednesday 20 Jul 2022

Italian Premier Mario Draghi won a confidence vote Wednesday in the Senate, but it was a hollow victory after boycotts by three of his key coalition allies in the voting virtually doomed any prospects for his unity government's survival.

Mario Draghi
Italian Premier Mario Draghi attends a debate at the Senate in Rome, Wednesday, July 20, 2022. AP


The vote Wednesday went 95-38 in the favor of Draghi's government in the 315-member Senate, after lawmakers deserted the roll call in droves.

``In these days of folly, Parliament decides to go against Italy,'' tweeted Enrico Letta, a former premier who leads the Democratic Party, the only large party in the coalition to back Draghi in the confidence vote. ``Italians will show themselves at the ballot box to be wiser than their representatives.''

The rapid unraveling of Draghi's 17-month-old coalition in the last hours could prompt President Sergio Mattarella to dissolve Parliament, opening the path to holding an early election, possibly as soon as late September. .

Just before the vote, representatives of the populist 5-Star Movement, the conservative forces of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia party and right-wing senators of Matteo Salvini's League party announced they would skip the roll call.

Coalition turmoil prompted Draghi last week to offer his resignation, but Italy's president rejected the bid and asked the premier to test his government's support in Parliament. That test of his national unity government's staying power failed dramatically on Wednesday night.

The coalition partners' walkouts came despite an unprecedented outpouring of sentiment by citizens in the last days appealing for Draghi to keep on governing, amid soaring inflation, high energy costs and a surge in pandemic infections.

After hours of debate on his fate, Draghi asked the Senate to vote on a confidence measure calling on him to keep on governing.

Last week Draghi had offered to step down after losing support from a major coalition partner, the populist 5-Star Movement. But Mattarella rebuffed the offer, asking him to go back to Parliament to gauge his support.

Appearing shortly before the vote in Parliament's upper house, Draghi cited an ``unprecedented'' outpouring of public pleas for him to continue governing.

Draghi told the senators after hours of debate, including squabbles among coalition partners, that ``at this point, I could declare my resignation and leave the hall.''

But because the ``mobilization that I have seen by citizens'' and various associations is ``without precedent,`` Draghi said he instead was submitting to a vote reconfirming the loyalty of the coalition's parties.

Draghi had said repeatedly he saw no other governing alternative than the unusually broad coalition he led.

Before Wednesday, even without the populist 5-Star Movement's senators, Draghi could have still mustered a working majority in the Senate. But the rebuff by Salvini and Berlusconi sabotaged that possibility.

In early 2021, Mattarella tapped Draghi to form a government of national unity, grouping parties from the right, left and the 5-Stars to guide Italy through its economic reboot amid the pandemic and reforms linked to some 200 billion euros in European Union recovery funds.

During the day's first showdown in the Senate, the former European Central Bank chief challenged the coalition partners to recommit to a unity pact.

``Are you ready? Are you ready to rebuild this pact? Are you ready?'' Draghi thundered at the end of his speech to senators. ``You don't have to give the answer to me. You have to give it to all Italians.''

In the last week, 14,000 mayors, an association of doctors, other lobbying groups and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens signing ``Draghi stay'' petitions have urged him not to step down.

The financial markets consider Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, to be a guarantor of fiscal stability in Italy.

In recent weeks, Draghi faced repeated ultimatums from 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, his predecessor in the premiership, as conditions for staying in the government.

The populists have criticized Italian military help for Ukraine, as did Salvini. That prompted one lawmaker last week to describe Draghi's impending departure as ``a gift'' to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Draghi has pressed ahead with efforts to slash Italy's dependence on Russian gas, including agreements forged with Algeria, which the premier visited this week.

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