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Italy faces September elections after Draghi resigns

Italy's President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament on Thursday, triggering snap elections in September which could bring the hard right to power after bickering parties toppled the government.

Italy faces September elections after Draghi resigns
Italy's President Sergio Mattarella announced snap elections at a press conference on Thursday evening. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Elections will take place on September 25th, a government source told AFP, while the internationally-respected Draghi will stay on as head of government until then.

Dissolving parliament was always a last resort, Mattarella said, but in this case a lack of consensus among the parties that had made up Draghi’s national unity government made it “inevitable”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Draghi steps down after government implodes

Italy was facing challenges, however, that could not be put on the backburner while the parties campaigned, he said.

There could be no “pauses in the essential interventions to combat the effects of the economic and social crisis, and in particular the rise in inflation”.

Based on current polls, a rightist alliance led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party would comfortably win a snap vote.

“No more excuses”, tweeted Meloni, 45, who vociferously led the opposition throughout Draghi’s term and has long called for fresh elections.

On Wednesday, he attempted to save the government, urging his squabbling coalition to put aside their grievances for the sake of the country.

But three parties – Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League and the populist Five Star Movement – said it was no longer possible for them to work together.

The stunned centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which had supported Draghi, said its hopes were now pinned on Italians being “wiser than their MPs”.

Draghi’s downfall comes despite recent polls suggesting most Italians wanted him to stay at the helm until the scheduled general election next May.

TIMELINE: What happens next in Italy’s government crisis?

Members of Italy’s government applaud Mario Draghi upon his arrival to announce his resignation to parliament on July 21st, 2022. Photo by FABIO FRUSTACI / AFP

The Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, is leading in the polls, with 23.9 percent of voter intentions, according to a SWG survey held three days before Draghi’s resignation.

To win a majority it would need the support of the League (polling at 14 percent) and Forza Italia (7.4 percent).

Anxious investors were watching closely as the coalition imploded. Concerns rose that a government collapse would worsen social ills in a period of rampant inflation, delay the budget, threaten EU post-pandemic recovery funds and send jittery markets into a tailspin.
 
Should a Brothers of Italy-led coalition win, it “would offer a much more disruptive scenario for Italy and the EU”, wrote Luigi Scazzieri, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

Research consultancy Capital Economics said, however, there were “powerful fiscal and monetary incentives” for the next government to implement the reforms demanded by the European Union, or risk missing out on post-pandemic recovery funds worth billions of euros.

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POLITICS

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.

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