ROME－Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte survived a vote of confidence on Tuesday but failed to secure an overall majority in parliament, leaving his ruling coalition severely weakened as it battles the coronavirus pandemic.
The government has been teetering near collapse since former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party last week, depriving Conte of his majority in the Senate.
Weeks of tensions over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis came to a head with a late-night vote of confidence in the upper chamber.
Conte won by 156 votes to 140, but only after almost all Italia Viva’s senators abstained－and crucially, the result fell short of the 161 needed for an overall majority.
“Italy doesn’t have a moment to lose,” tweeted Conte after the vote. “Right back to work to overcome the health emergency and the economic crisis.”
The government, comprised mainly of the former anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party, now limps on but without a strong mandate to govern at a crucial time.
Italy is facing an unprecedented crisis as a result of the pandemic, which has claimed 83,000 lives and devastated the economy.
“The result is a very slim majority,” Maurizio Molinari, editor of the left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper, told Rai News television, saying it poses “very, very serious question marks” about the government’s durability.
Conte will likely seek to win over opposition lawmakers to bolster his position in the coming days and weeks, as he seeks to push through notably a 220-billion-euro ($267 billion) spending plan for European Union recovery funds.
Still, “it remains unclear how such a weak coalition … without a majority can lead Italy out of the deepest economic crisis since World War II amid a pandemic,” said Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo political consultancy.
Conte has over the past two days appealed to both the Senate and the lower Chamber of Deputies to support him, both to guide Italy out of the crisis and keep the right-wing opposition out of power.
Opinion polls suggest that if the turmoil were to force snap elections, a center-right coalition comprising Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party would win.
Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the pandemic early in 2020 and remains one of the continent’s hardest-hit countries.
It has been allocated a large share of a 750 billion euro European Union rescue fund, but Conte’s 220 billion euro spending plan was a trigger for the current turmoil.
For weeks, Renzi had criticized Conte for his leadership style and his handling of the pandemic, and warned that the prime minister and the Five Star Movement risked squandering the EU billions.
But critics accuse Renzi－whose party is polling at just 3 percent－of seeking to deliberately destabilize the government so he can play kingmaker.
Agencies via Xinhua