Italy’s government has been left on the verge of collapse after former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from the country’s ruling coalition.
Pulling his party’s ministers from cabinet, Renzi has deprived the ruling coalition of its parliamentary majority, causing fresh political chaos as the nation battles COVID-19.
His move on Wednesday has left observers baffled over his motives.
OAN reports: Renzi, who heads the tiny Italia Viva party, had long threatened to quit government, complaining about Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s plans for spending billions of euros promised by the European Union to relaunch the economy.
“Being responsible is about facing up to problems, not hiding them,” Renzi, who may face a popular backlash for sparking a crisis at such a difficult time, told a news conference.
Hours earlier, Conte had made a last ditch appeal to Renzi to stay within the four-party coalition, which took office in August 2019, saying he was convinced government unity could be restored if there was goodwill from all sides.
It was not immediately clear what Conte, or his main allies, the 5-Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), would do.
One possible scenario would be for the coalition parties to try to renegotiate a new pact with Italia Viva, which would almost certainly open the way for a major cabinet reshuffle, with or without Conte at the helm.
If the coalition cannot agree on a way forward, President Sergio Mattarella would almost certainly try to put together a government of national unity to deal with the health emergency, which has killed 80,000 Italians.
If that failed, the only option would be a national vote.
Renzi told reporters he thought elections could be avoided, saying he was sure a majority could be found in parliament to back a new government.
A source in Conte’s office said on Tuesday that the prime minister had ruled out forming a second administration with Renzi if he decided to pull his ministers.
Italia Viva, which has voter support of under 3% and is struggling to remain relevant, has been an unruly ally for Conte for months as it seeks to boost its political standing.
Renzi’s complaints originally focused on Conte’s plans for the EU recovery fund. On Tuesday, he acknowledged that the original project had been improved, but immediately raised other policy grievances and insisted Italy should apply for a loan from the euro zone’s bailout fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to help its health service.
The 5-Star Movement, the largest ruling party, is hostile to this idea and Conte has so far backed its position.