Stay or go? Italy’s parliament to vote on PM Draghi’s fate

Italian Prime Minister Mario Dragh faced a crucial confidence vote on Wednesday night to end a political crisis that could trigger early elections.

Stay or go? Italy's parliament to vote on PM Draghi's fate
Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi after addressing the Senate on July 20th in a last attempt to resolve the government crisis. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italy waited on Wednesday to hear whether elections loomed, as the country’s fractious parties furiously debated whether to support Draghi and his appeal for a new “pact of trust”.

Now was not the time for uncertainty within the eurozone’s third largest economy, amid domestic and geopolitical challenges from a struggling economy to the Ukraine war, Draghi earlier told the Senate.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s latest political crisis mean for the economy?

The premier threw the onus on parties across the political spectrum to put aside their differences and join together as it had in February 2021 when Draghi took the helm of a newly formed unity government to address Italy’s myriad challenges, from coronavirus to the economy.

“The only way forward if we want to stay together is to rebuild afresh this (government) pact with courage, selflessness, credibility,” Draghi told the Senate.

“Are you ready? … You don’t owe this answer to me, but to all Italians”.

The stern speech by a usually softly-spoken Draghi suggested that the former leader of the European Central Bank was prepared to stay – but on one condition: if the wildly disparate parties pledge anew to a common agenda.

READ ALSO: ‘We need stability’: Calls grow for Italy’s Draghi to stay on as PM

The crisis was sparked by the refusal by the Five Star Movement, a coalition member, to opt out of a confidence vote.

Parliamentarians will now debate for over five hours, setting out their positions. Draghi will then respond, before a vote later Wednesday.

If he survives all that, the process will be repeated in the lower house on Thursday.

Otherwise, Italy’s president could dissolve parliament and call elections for September or October.

After Draghi attempted to resign from his post on Thursday, the president urged him to go to parliament to find out whether his fractured coalition can be saved – or if snap elections are unavoidable.

There’s a lot at stake: a government collapse at a time of soaring inflation could delay the budget, threaten EU post-pandemic recovery funds and send jittery markets into a tailspin.

READ ALSO: What’s changing under Italy’s post-pandemic recovery plan

Polls suggest most Italians want Draghi, 74, to stay at the helm of the eurozone’s third-largest economy until the scheduled general election in May next year.

Parties on the centre-left have said they will support Draghi, but a question mark remains over right-leaning Forza Italia and the League, which have ruled out staying in government with Five Star.

“We are in the middle of an Italian-style political crisis, so predictions change utterly from one second to the next,” Giovanni Orsina, head of the Luiss School of Government in Rome, told AFP.

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Italy’s ex-PM and health minister cleared in Covid investigation

Former prime minister Giuseppe Conte and his health minister were not to blame for Covid deaths in northern Italy when the pandemic first broke out, an Italian court has ruled.

Italy’s ex-PM and health minister cleared in Covid investigation

Italy’s former prime minister Giuseppe Conte and former health minister Roberto Speranza were cleared on Wednesday in an investigation into alleged mismanagement of the first phase of the Covid pandemic.

Prosecutors in Bergamo, the Lombardy province worst hit by the first wave of infections in early 2020, had investigated Conte and Speranza on suspicion of “aggravated culpable epidemic” and manslaughter over accusations that the government’s conduct at the start of the coronavirus pandemic had been “improper”.

Conte, now president of the populist Five Star movement, was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw the initial measures taken to halt the spread of what would become a global pandemic.

At the time, many viewed Italy’s ‘red zone’ lockdown measures as draconian – but relatives of those killed in the first wave say restrictions did not go far enough to prevent deaths.

The province of Bergamo recorded 6,000 excess deaths during the first wave, and rights groups representing families of the victims claim some 4,000 could have been prevented if the areas had been immediately quarantined.

Italian police enforce a ‘red zone’ on February 23rd, 2020 at the entrance of the small Italian town of Codogno following the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Investigating magistrates had suspected Conte and his government underestimated the contagiousness of Covid-19 even though available data showed cases were spreading rapidly in Bergamo and the surrounding region.

They noted that in early March 2020 the government did not create a red zone in two areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, even though security forces were ready to isolate the zone from the rest of the country.

Red zones had already been declared in late February for around a dozen nearby municipalities, including Codogno, the town where the initial Covid case was reportedly found.

But on Wednesday both were cleared of culpability as the court in Brescia dismissed the case, ruling that the “accusations against the pair are baseless”.

READ ALSO: Anti-vaxxer assaults Covid-era Italian PM Conte at rally

“There is no evidence of the connection between the dead and the failure to extend the red zone,” the court said.

“Speranza has adopted the health measures proposed to him by experts – measures which, moreover, at European level, have been among the most restrictive,” wrote the judges. “The crime of culpable epidemic for improper omissive conduct is therefore unrealistic.”

Speranza wrote on Facebook that he was “very relieved” by the ruling.

“Personally, I did everything possible during those terrible days to protect the health of Italians.”

But relatives of Covid victims in Bergamo said the ruling was a “slap in the face for all of us”.

Members of the Sereni e Sempre Uniti group for relatives of Covid victims added that they were “disappointed and bitter” and plan to take the issue to the civil courts.