Italy's government on shaky ground ahead of new confidence vote
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Italians woke to political uncertainty Friday amid an unprecedented government crisis that has put Mario Draghi's future as prime minister on tenterhooks and raised the spectre of snap elections.
The premier of Europe's third-largest economy will have until Wednesday to shore up political support in a bid to save his coalition government tackling numerous challenges, from soaring inflation to the war in Ukraine.
Italy's technocrat leader, the former head of the European Central Bank, has significantly raised the profile of his country on the world stage and within Europe.
The crisis comes at a crunch time for the country, which risks losing billions in EU post-recovery funds if the rollout of key structural reforms is threatened.
But he has presided over an unruly coalition of Italy's top political parties, save for the far-right Brothers of Italy, that has become increasingly fractious in advance of general elections planned for early next year.
Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva both wear bullet-proof vests to campaign rallies ahead of October elections.
The crisis was sparked Thursday after the populist Five Star movement, a coalition member with dismal poll numbers, chose to sit out a confidence vote for a cost-of-living aid package some of whose provisions it objected to, prompting Draghi's resignation.
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President Sergio Mattarella, who acts as kingmaker in moments of political crisis, refused to accept the resignation, sending the premier back to parliament next week to assess the situation.
"We have a very open-ended situation, the pressure is going up, there's lots of diplomatic work taking place behind the scenes and we still have four days to go," Policy Sonar analyst Francesco Galietti told AFP.
'Italy risks chaos'
Although political crises are nothing new in Italy, "this one is unprecedented because geopolitical factors are taking precedent", Galietti said, citing tensions with Russia over its war in Ukraine.
Draghi is scheduled to be in Algeria, a crucial gas supplier in the wake of Italy's boycott of Russian gas, Monday and Tuesday. On his return, he will deliver a speech to parliament, with or without a confidence vote.
Politicians and experts view the possibility of Draghi continuing in his mandate as extremely fraught, even though he technically has the numbers to survive a confidence vote with or without Five Star.
"The Draghi government and the coalition that supported it must continue, but right now I see it as very, very difficult," Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told RTL 102.5 radio Friday.
Accounts of behind-the-scenes political jostling filled Italian newspapers Friday.
"Draghi resigns, Italy risks chaos," read a La Stampa daily headline.
Corriere della Sera editorialist Massimo Franco wrote that Draghi's resignation, forced by the Five Star, represents the "triumph of the suicidal instincts of political Italy".
The Five Star Movement "preferred to destroy the attempted transition to stability and normalcy represented by the anomaly of an executive of national unity led by the most eminent personality available," he wrote.
He added that the party was "desperate for a few percentage points to survive".
Experts view the Five Star's move as an attempt to appeal to its grassroots base ahead of next year's election given poll numbers lagging at 11 percent.
As Italy's left-leaning and centrist parties called for support for Draghi, the Brothers of Italy and League party called for early elections.
"With Draghi's resignation... this legislature is over," wrote Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni on Facebook.
"This parliament no longer represents Italians... Elections now," wrote Meloni, whose party currently leads in voter intention polls.
The prospect of early elections is viewed by some political leaders as desirable "because the government's ability to pass additional reforms and make politically difficult choices is close to exhaustion," wrote economist Lorenzo Codogno of LC Macro Advisors in a note.
"Draghi does not want his term in office to die with painful and slow tortures."
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