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EXPLANATOR: Italy faces a political crisis amid a pandemic

 Italian Senator, former premier and head of the political party 'Italia Viva' (IV), Matteo Renzi holds a press conference at the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. The Italian cabinet was in crisis on January 13, 2021 following the resignations of ministers Teresa Bellanova and Elena Bonetti, members of former premier Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva party.


Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is testing his already low popularity by sparking a political crisis that could topple Italy's coalition government at a critical juncture in the coronavirus pandemic.

Renzi orchestrated the resignations of two ministers from his small but key Italia Viva party. The outcome of his power play will be clearer this week, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addresses both houses of Parliament. If Conte makes a successful offer of support, he could form what would be his third coalition government since the 2018 elections in Italy.

RENZI'S POWER PLAY

This is not Renzi's first foray as an iconoclast to shake up Italian politics. He became prime minister in 2014 by unceremoniously maneuvering and ousting then-Democratic Party partner Enrico Letta as leader of Italy. Renzi himself fell from power almost three years later after betting his popularity on a failed constitutional referendum.

RENZI'S POWER PLAY

Now, the 46-year-old former mayor of Florence could topple Conte. He widely accuses the prime minister of failing to properly handle the coronavirus crisis. Renzi says that he is only following his conscience, at great political cost.

“Italia Viva did not start the crisis. It has been going on for months, "he said during a press conference last week.

Renzi, a senator from the Italia Viva party, supported Conte during a previous failed takeover by Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing Liga party that was part of Conte's first government.

The new polls show that Italia Viva, a partner of the junior coalition, has the support of only 2.4% of respondents, down from 6.2% at the start of the match. Italia Viva was created in September 2019 when Renzi left the Democratic Party that he once led. He brought two members of the cabinet with him, giving himself the kind of influence he used last week.

NEXT MOVEMENT OF CONTE

With the resignation of Italia Viva ministers, Conte is working to shore up support in parliament among independent lawmakers. He still has the backing of the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement, which have criticized Renzi's move as irresponsible.

Conte will present his case in the Lower House on Monday and in the Senate on Tuesday. A voice vote will be taken after each appearance, which is equivalent to a vote of confidence.

If he can't get enough backing, Conte will likely submit his resignation to Italian President Sergio Mattarella. In that case, a technical government could be established. Analysts believe that an early election is the least likely outcome, due to the difficulty of running a political campaign and elections during the pandemic. There are also concerns that the right-wing opposition will gain traction and possibly lead a new government. The current majority would like to hold out until at least January 2022, when a new president must be elected.

Conte can survive to lead what would be his third government by gathering enough support in both houses. And it is still possible that Italia Viva will regain its support.

WHAT IS AT STAKE

Italy hopes to have 222 billion euros ($ 268 billion) in economic recovery funds from the European Union to manage, money that is crucial to modernizing the country and its hobbled economy.

While Conte had wide support during Italy's devastating round with the coronavirus in the first half of 2020, cracks have appeared in his popularity during the resurgence of the even more deadly decline. Four months after the government's staggered system of restrictions, new confirmed daily infections remain stubbornly high, and Italy's pandemic death toll of 81,800 is the second highest in Europe after Britain.

The Conte government is also coming under fire for failing to keep high schools open during the pandemic, a decision primarily related to inadequate transportation to allow for social distancing. And there is concern that Italy does not have enough medical staff to carry out the country's vaccination campaign.

But the crisis was finally fueled when Conte presented a plan that would have been put in charge of managing the EU recovery funds. Political analyst Wolfgang Piccoli called it "the biggest mistake," establishing Renzi's move to reassert his own "prominence."

Italians are showing little patience with political infighting when the nation's priority is to control the coronavirus pandemic and launch the vaccines that many hope will end the nation's long coronavirus nightmare. In a new poll, 42% of Italians said they did not understand what prompted the latest government splits.

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