Italian PM Conte to resign following pandemic criticism

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is set to hand in his resignation on Tuesday, following criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 85,000 Italians have died with Covid-19.

Mr Conte hopes to be given a mandate by the president to form a stronger government after losing his majority in the Senate.

Should he fail to do so, the task could fall to someone else and – failing that – fresh elections will be held.

A statement from the cabinet office said a meeting is convened for 09:00 (08:00 GMT) where Mr Conte “will inform his ministers of his intention to resign. He will then go to see President Sergio Mattarella”.

Mr Conte, who has been prime minister since 2018, survived a vote of confidence in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, last week.

The vote was called after former PM Matteo Renzi pulled his small Italia Viva party out of the coalition and said he would only return if Mr Conte accepted a list of demands.

He objects to Mr Conte’s plans for spending €209bn (£186bn; $254bn) of EU recovery funds – part of a €750bn EU rescue for the Covid crisis.

Shortly before Mr Conte’s resignation, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) said it would “remain at Conte’s side”.

His resignation comes ahead of a vote on judicial reforms later this week that MPs in his coalition warned he would lose.

Mr Conte, an independent technocrat, has led two very different successive governments.

For 15 months he headed a coalition between M5S and the far-right League, whose leader Matteo Salvini pulled out in a failed bid to force elections.

Since then he has presided over a centre-left coalition of which M5S and the Democratic Party have been the main components.

‘The worst possible time’

And so Italy’s 66th government since World War Two comes to a close. A country of seemingly perennial political crises has chosen the worst possible time to face another – in the grip of a pandemic that has killed more than 85,000 Italians and unleashed the worst economic collapse in decades.

That’s why Giuseppe Conte may manage to come back with a new revamped government, arguing the need to avoid the turmoil of fresh elections at such a difficult time. Added to that, polls suggest an early vote would be won by the far right. So Mr Conte is hoping that the threat of losing their seats might tempt enough centrist politicians to jump the opposition ship and join a reformed coalition.

Italy’s 29th prime minister since the war is hoping to return as… Italy’s 29th prime minister since the war. But his opponents are circling. And he won’t have much time to convince parliament that he can become the new, stronger comeback kid.

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