By NICOLE WINFIELD and FRANCES D’EMILIO
ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Mario Draghi’s tenure in office grew decidedly more precarious on Wednesday after three coalition allies declared, one after the other, that they will boycott a confidence vote on his government, likely dooming prospects that his increasingly fractious government could stay afloat.
The unraveling of his “national unity coalition” has made the prospect of Italy holding an early election as soon as late September increasingly likely.
After hours of debate on his fate, Draghi asked the Senate to vote Wednesday on a confidence measure calling him to keep on governing. Last week Draghi had offered to step down after losing support from the populist 5-Star Movement, a partner in his 17-month-old coalition. But the president rejected his offer, asking him to go back to Parliament to seek support.
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 coalition’s parties.
But one after the other, party whips from three coalition partners stood up to declare their lawmakers wouldn’t participate in the roll call vote, which began Wednesday evening. Besides the 5-Stars, the other parties boycotting the vote were center-right Forza Italia senators from the ranks of the party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who had been one of Draghi’s staunchest supporters. Similarly opting out of the vote was the right-wing League party of Matteo Salvini.
Either Draghi forms another government without the populists, or he “gives the word to the voters” in an early election, League Sen. Stefano Candiani said.
Draghi had ruled out governing without the populists, an original member of his coalition.
Before Wednesday, even without the populist 5-Star Movement’s senators, Draghi could have still mustered a working majority in the Senate. But the rebuff by Salvini and Berlusconi sabotaged that possibility.
In early 2021, President Sergio 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 challenged the coalition partners to recommit to a unity pact.
“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.”
In the last week, 14,000 mayors, an association of doctors, other lobbying groups and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens signing “Draghi stay” petitions have urged him not to step down. The financial markets consider Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, to be a guarantor of fiscal stability in Italy.
In recent weeks, Draghi faced repeated ultimatums from 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, as conditions for staying in the government. The populists have criticized Italian military help for Ukraine.
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.
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