Italy’s coalition government is teetering on the brink of collapse after the Five Star Movement refused to participate in a confidence vote, raising the spectre of a snap general election.
Five Star, headed by the former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, is a formerly anti-establishment party that has plummeted in the polls and lost parliamentarians since joining the government, hurt by policy U-turns and internal divisions.
The decision to sit out the vote – which political experts say is a tactical attempt to win back grassroots support – could push Mario Draghi’s already fractured coalition to collapse, and even force early national elections later in the year.
“We are not taking part in the vote on this measure today … but this position of ours is not about confidence in the government,” said Mariolina Castellone, the leader of Five Star in the senate.
The government survived the confidence vote, but Draghi had previously warned on multiple occasions that he would not carry on as premier without Five Star’s support.
Draghi called a cabinet meeting directly after the vote.
The vote was called on an aid package worth about €23bn (£19.5bn), designed to help combat rampant inflation. But it also included a provision to allow a garbage incinerator to be built in Rome – something the Five Star has long opposed.
Analysts suggested the beleaguered party was not trying to collapse the government but attempting to win back some of its lost support by doubling down on its principles ahead of the scheduled 2023 general election.
Nervous investors sent the Milan stock exchange down 3 percentage points.
Draghi was appointed prime minister in February 2021 by President Sergio Mattarella, and was charged with carrying out key reforms required under the EU’s largest tranche of post-pandemic recovery funds – a package worth approximately €200bn for Italy.
The government has since found itself embroiled in the war in Ukraine, taking a strong, pro-EU line, while battling soaring inflation at home.
Draghi’s support of Ukraine, which includes sending weapons and backing EU sanctions, won a parliamentary confidence vote in June despite criticism from Conte that the policy risked fuelling an arms race.
Since winning legislative elections in 2018 with an unprecedented third of the vote, Five Star has been losing support and risks being wiped out in the next national elections.
Last month the party – which had represented the largest in parliament – split, with foreign minister Luigi Di Maio starting a breakaway group.
Conte, whose party is now polling at 11%, is trying to bring more visibility to Five Star.
July 14, 2022 at 08:26PM Agence France-Presse in Rome