The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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Italy's premier sets conditions to remain in office

Associated Press Wednesday, 20 July 2022, 10:31 Last update: about 4 months ago

Italian Premier Mario Draghi said Wednesday the spontaneous shows of popular support for his government were “unprecedented and impossible to ignore,” as he weighed appeals to rescind his resignation, offered after a coalition partner triggered a government crisis.

Draghi laid out priorities for Parliament to consider in rebuilding “from the top” the majority needed for the government to work efficiently, suggesting he was willing to stay on if they were embraced. Draghi directly challenged the 5-Star Movement to decide if they were on board or not, after the populists withheld support for the government in a confidence vote last week.

“Are you ready? Are you ready to rebuild this pact? Are you ready?” Draghi thundered at the end of his speech to the Senate. “You don't have to give the response to me. You have to give it to all Italians.”

Draghi offered to resign last week after 5-Star senators boycotted a confidence vote. The trigger was their opposition to a trash incinerator for Rome contained in a bill, but their beef with Draghi’s government went well beyond that.

Draghi had long insisted he would never head a second government or one without the 5-Stars, and said flatly last week that he wouldn’t govern by ultimatum.

But it appeared the waves of appeals for him to reconsider, from inside and out of Italy, had an effect. In recent days, political leaders, mayors, doctors’ associations and ordinary citizens have urged him to stay on at such a crucial time, with soaring inflation and energy prices, a war in Ukraine and implementation of the EU recovery funds at stake.

Draghi told the Senate that he was personally moved by the spontaneous shows of support, citing in particular the petitions by Italian mayors and medical personnel, the “heroes of the pandemic.”

“The mobilization in these days by citizens, associations and regions for the government to continue is unprecedented and impossible to ignore,” he said. “This demand for stability requires all of us to decide if it’s possible to recreate the conditions in which the government can truly govern.”

Despite Draghi's suggestion that he was open to remaining, there was no clarity on how the day would play out: After Draghi's speech, lawmakers will have the chance to reply and Draghi the chance to respond. There may be some sort of vote later in the day.

Watching over the scene from the presidential palace on the Quirinale Hill was President Sergio Mattarella, who ultimately can decide whether to accept Draghi’s resignation if it is offered again, ask him or someone else to try to govern until the spring vote or dissolve Parliament now and trigger early elections as soon as September.

Mattarella had tapped Draghi in 2021 to form a government of national unity, grouping parties from the right, left and the 5-Stars to guide Italy through its economic reboot following the pandemic and enact reforms necessary to implement some 200 billion euros in European Union recovery funds.

The uneasy coalition worked for a while but Draghi offered his resignation last week after the 5-Star lawmakers, the biggest vote-getters in 2018 general elections, walked out.

Five-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, who complained his forces had been humiliated and ignored by other coalition parties, delivered a nine-point set of demands for Draghi to embrace, including the 5-Stars’ flagship pledge of a basic income and minimum salary.

Draghi also bristled hard at Conte's opposition to providing Ukraine with military support.

Former Premier Mario Monti, who himself was tapped to lead Italy in a moment of crisis, appealed to Draghi’s ego, saying the internationally respected former European Central Bank chief would irrevocably harm his legacy if he abandoned Italy now.

“Draghi’s bitterness over the petty games played by various parties is completely understandable,” Monti wrote on the front page of Corriere della Sera. But he warned that Draghi “would show a lack of respect to the country and its citizens” if he followed through and stepped down.

Heading into the day, key parties had staked out their positions: The Democratic Party, which polls around 22% and is a key coalition partner, wants Draghi to stay. The center-right coalition partners Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi and League of Matteo Salvini have said only that they won’t govern again with the 5-Stars.

The 5-Stars themselves are split, with Conte’s allies ready to pull out but other 5-Star lawmakers indicating they would continue to back Draghi, suggesting more defections from the populists’ ranks. The right-wing Brothers of Italy, which had been in the opposition all along to Draghi’s coalition, wants to go straight to early elections since they currently vie with the Democrats for the top spot in polls.

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