Around lunchtime on Friday, Bruno Tabacci entered the Palazzo Chigi. He was one of the main figures in the hunt for the “responsible votes,” in close contact with the Senate, the government’s most contentious battleground. He met with Luigi Di Maio, but the result of the conversation was not very comforting: “The majority can be enlarged. But not with this government. We need a Conte 3 government.”
This involves precisely what Conte did not want and does not want to do: send in his resignation. But the vote count is what it is, and the situation is merciless. Building a new group in the Senate is very difficult, but setting up something politically credible is impossible. Especially after the CESA bombshell, multiplied in its destructive effects by the statements of the leaders of the Five Star, put the UDC out of play, which was, more than any other, the trump card that the majority was counting on to set up an “enlargement of the majority.”
There is still Italia Viva, where the numbers that were being floated around by the insiders at Palazzo Chigi were high, indeed very high, claiming 5 or 6 defectors from the party were imminent. But as long as the whole operation remains so ramshackle and patently unsuccessful, the temptation to join with the majority is low, and Renzi is working to make it negligible. “‘Operation Responsible Votes’ has failed,” he’s saying to his own members, “now let everything settle for a few days.”
Thus, his deputies and senators are signing an open letter declaring their extreme concern about “the institutional stalemate” and proposing “a political solution that would fit the animus of the legislature,” but which ends by confirming “that they will move all together in a compact manner.” At least for now, Renzi has stopped the much hoped-for hemorrhage, and is, as they say in the document, trying to reopen the dialogue “without any vetoes.”
It’s not excluded that new votes for the majority might still drip in. But this would be just another patchwork, destined to fray in a short time. Conte saw on Friday just what it’s like to deal with a ragtag crew like the one the majority has put together until now, when Clemente Mastella, talking about his wife’s thoughts, described her as “very uncertain” about the vote on Wednesday on the report by Minister of Justice Bonafede. This is a maximum-risk vote: the chances of a sound defeat are high.
The members of the majority are trying to salvage what can be salvaged by convincing some opposition senators to be absent, just to avoid the risk of a collapse that could end with those early elections that every senator fears more than anything else. But losing any votes at such a juncture would really be the last straw. For instance, FI’s Sandra Lonardo asserted her power and spoke in the first person, and was reassuring up to a certain point. She said she was really in doubt about her vote. In order to vote with the majority, she wanted the Justice Minister to include in his report a passage on the duration of the trials and that Conte himself should guarantee it. She will probably get what she wants, and in the end she will vote with the majority, but this scenario illustrates how things will go from now on: with the obligation to negotiate every vote with an unruly bunch of individual senators.
In this situation, going forward is impossible. Everyone is repeating it out loud, and even the President is saying it quietly. The Senate is counting the time until reaching the fateful “enlargement of the majority.” There are those who would bet on 4-5 days at most, and those who go up to two weeks.
But these counts ignore Conte’s own position. The Prime Minister has said that the majority must be enlarged, but he has never spoken of it as an ultimate condition. If he will not be able to do it, he will limit himself to taking note of this and pretending nothing happened. If the only open road seems to be the one he has sworn not to take—that is, the reopening of the dialogue with Renzi—there is always the alternative of not taking any road at all and remaining fixed in place, an exercise at which the current Prime Minister excels. No one has challenged him. No one will challenge him, at least until the beginning of the “white semester” (the last six months of the President’s term, in which the President is unable to dissolve Parliament).
So, with or without the “fourth leg” of the proverbial table, with or without reinforcements to the government’s support in the Senate, he will not resign. The possible rejection of the report by Bonafede next Wednesday worries him, but only up to a point. If it is voted down, the Justice Minister should be the one to resign—what does the Prime Minister have to do with it?
From an institutional point of view, he is right, and the President knows it too. But the concern has risen beyond the alert level. In order to resist in such a fragile situation, even with a real but tiny majority, and even more so without one, the Prime Minister would have to disrupt the front of the opposition. This is a difficult task, because Forza Italia is certainly allured by the promise of proportional representation, but, with Berlusconi enthralled by the mirage of being charged with forming a new government if there are early elections soon, FI is now much less flexible than it was before.
And as for Italia Viva, it is now under the burden of the collective fatwa: “Never Renzi.” But as long as things remain the same, and unless there are real new developments, the crisis is likely to settle into a perennial standoff.
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