Italian PM Giuseppe Conte to step down, accuses his minister of rebellion

Topics Italy elections

Giuseppe Conte, Italy's prime minister, addresses the Senate in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. Alessia Pierdomenico/ Bloomberg
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will hand his resignation to the Italian president later on Tuesday after telling lawmakers that his deputy’s self-interested and irresponsible rebellion means the administration can’t continue.

But Conte may not be ready to step aside just yet — he also savaged Matteo Salvini’s demands for a snap election. Conte could stay in office and thwart Salvini’s power grab if he can stitch together a fresh majority and persuade head of state Sergio Mattarella to give him a second shot at governing.

In a speech to the Senate, Conte lashed out at Salvini, saying it isn’t in Italy’s interests to hold elections every year. The premier also accused his deputy of not properly responding to allegations in the so-called Russiagate case and said he had overstepped his role as minister.

The government’s actions “terminate here,” Conte said. Salvini remained impassive during the address, occasionally shaking his head.

Salvini pulled his support from the governing alliance with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement this month, saying the coalition no longer has a working majority. The 46-year-old anti-immigration hardliner has been seeking to cash in on strong poll ratings and upended the political establishment with a mid-summer power grab while parliament was in recess.

At stake is whether Italy’s mountain of public debt -- a chronic concern for both European officials and international investors -- will be managed by a right-wing ideologue set on confrontation with Brussels. Salvini on Tuesday promised Italians 50 billion euros ($55 billion) of tax cuts and public spending if he can take control of the government.

Salvini’s gambit has run into trouble in recent days, with Five Star and the opposition Democratic Party weighing an alliance to thwart him. Though both groups acknowledge that there have been contacts about a possible government together, they’d make for an uncomfortable alliance, having traded insults and clashed over policy since the last general elections last year.

"I’d do it all over again if I had another chance," Salvini told senators in his response to Conte. "I’m not afraid of a PD-Five Star alliance."

Conte’s resignation could lead to the president beginning consultations on a possible alternative government as soon as Wednesday.

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