Fri, 26 Feb 2021

ROME, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Political turmoil and uncertainty gripped Italy Tuesday after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte stepped down in a maneuver that will see him try to build a new and more stable coalition in the coming days.

If he succeeds, Italy's next government will be the third in 30 months headed by Conte, a former law professor. It will also be the country's 68th government in the nearly 75 years since Italy's constitution was drafted in 1946.

Political instability is nothing new to Italy. But Gian Franco Gallo, a political affairs analyst with ABS Securities, told Xinhua that "this situation is unique."

"This is not the deepest political crisis in the country's history by any stretch, but the circumstances make the stakes very high," said Gallo.

Gallo referred to the fact that the crisis is taking place during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, with Italy in a deep economic malaise and amid a fierce debate over how to use more than 200 billion euros in European Union coronavirus recovery funds.

"This is not an ideal time for the country to be without leadership," Gallo said.

Conte last week requested and won two confidence votes in both houses of parliament after a junior member of his ruling coalition, the Italia Viva party led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, withdrew its backing earlier this month.

What happens next is risky for Conte, who will try to cobble together a stronger coalition than the one he had before, local media reported. That will involve wooing moderate lawmakers from second-tier parties, which could bring some new, divisive figures into the government. If Conte succeeds, he will pick up where he left off in trying to negotiate policies to confront the coronavirus pandemic and spark economic growth.

But Riccardo Puglisi, an economist in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pavia, said Conte could also end up with a coalition just as fractured as the last one, or the populist Five-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party, the two main members of Conte's previous coalition, could opt for an alternative figure to lead the coalition.

Less likely but still possible, Puglisi said, is that nobody will be able to pull together a majority coalition and so President Sergio Mattarella will look to form a technocrat government headed by a non-political figure.

"The only certainty at the moment is that we are headed for at least a few days of uncertainty," Puglisi said.

The uncertainty initially weighed on Italian financial markets, pushing the blue-chip index on the Italian Stock Exchange around 2.5-percent lower Monday and increasing interest rates on Italian government debt, a reflection of investor jitters. But stocks rose 1.2 percent on Tuesday amid gains on other European exchanges, though bond yields still rose slightly.

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