By NICOLE WINFIELD and FRANCES D’EMILIO
ROME (AP) — Premier Mario Draghi asked Italy’s Senate on Wednesday to vote on whether it wants him to stay in office and take back an offer to resign he made last week following the betrayal of senators from a populist partner in his coalition government.
Appearing for a second time before Parliament’s upper house, Draghi cited an “unprecedented” outpouring of public pleas for him to continue governing amid soaring inflation, rising energy prices, the war in Ukraine and Italy’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Draghi told the senators after hours of debate, including squabbles among members of coalition partners, that “at this point, I could declare my resignation and leave the hall.”
But because the “mobilization that I have seen by citizens” and various associations is “without precedent,” Draghi said he instead was submitting to a vote a pact that would reconfirm the loyalty of the parties in his coalition.
Draghi said his government’s fate would be decided with a resolution, lodged by a veteran centrist senator, Pier Ferdnando Casini, that calls for the approval of what the premier proposed as his condition for remaining in his post.
Senators from various parties began staking their positions in speeches to the chamber.
Even without the populist 5-Star Movement’s senators, who triggered Draghi’s offer to step down by refusing to back the government’s energy relief bill, the premier could still muster a comfortable majority in the Senate.
However, former conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi and right-wing leader Matteo Salvini complicated the future outlook for Draghi’s government by saying their parties would only stay in the coalition if the 5-Stars were excluded.
Draghi losing a confidence vote on his government could prompt President Sergio Mattarella to dissolve Parliament, paving the way for early fall elections. Mattarella rejected the premier’s resignation offer last week.
In early 2021, Mattarella tapped Draghi to form a government of national unity, grouping parties from the right, left and the 5-Stars to guide Italy through its economic reboot amid the pandemic and reforms linked to some 200 billion euros in European Union recovery funds.
During the day’s first showdown in the Senate, the former European Central Bank chief who was drafted to lead Italy 17 months ago ago had suggested he would continue if the restive parties in his coalition recommitted to a unity pact that created his government.
“Are you ready? Are you ready to rebuild this pact? Are you ready?” Draghi thundered at the end of his speech to senators. “You don’t have to give the answer to me. You have to give it to all Italians.”
Draghi offered his resignation to Italy’s president on July 14 after senators from the populist 5-Star Movement, a coalition partner and the biggest vote-getter in the 2018 election for Parliament, shunned a confidence vote on an energy bill that included a provision for a trash incinerator for Rome they bitterly opposed.
Since then, some 1,000 mayors, an association of doctors — “heroes,” Draghi called them for their role in the pandemic, other lobbying groups, and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens signing “Draghi, stay” petitions have urged him not to step down.
Draghi has repeatedly said he wouldn’t govern without the populists since they signed on to the unity coalition he agreed to lead last year, but he also said he wouldn’t cede to policy ultimatums issued by his predecessor in the premier’s office, 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, has issued conditions for staying in the government.
The number of 5-Star members serving in Parliament has declined due to defections before and during Draghi’s tenure. The most prominent member to bolt the Movement was Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who said he was dismayed by Conte’s wavering on military aid for Ukraine.
Salvini, with a longtime pro-Russia stance, had also expressed objections to additional military assistance. But ultimately, lawmakers approved the multiple military aid packages.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Draghi has pressed ahead with efforts to slash Italy’s dependence on Russian gas, including agreements forged with Algeria, which the premier visited earlier this week.
“I believe that a premier who never went before voters must have the biggest support possible in Parliament,” Draghi said before debate began, as he insisted on unwavering coalition partner support as a condition to keep governing. “This is even more important in a context of an emergency, in which the government must take decisions that profoundly impact the lives of Italians.”
Addressing some of the 5-Star demands, Draghi insisted that proposals for basic income and a minimum wage were indeed on his agenda.
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