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Italian Senate to set date for no-confidence vote as Salvini pushes for elections

Andreas Solaro, AFP | Italy's powerful Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (right) has pulled his support for the coalition government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

The Italian Senate will return Tuesday from its summer vacation to set a crucial date for a no-confidence vote that could spell the end of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's populist government.

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Hard-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called last week for swift elections after withdrawing the support of his anti-immigration League party from an increasingly acrimonious alliance with the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S).

With the government is still in place, the Senate must now decide when to initiate a no-confidence vote in Conte's 14-month-old administration after party whips failed to unanimously agree on a date on Monday.

Eager to become premier himself, Salvini wants to go to the polls as soon as possible to capitalise both on the League's rising popularity and the waning support for the Five-Star Movement.

Coalition partners have accused Salvini of 'betraying' Italian voters, says FRANCE 24's Josephine McKenna

Italy's main opposition party, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), is already divided over its future strategy. Party secretary Nicola Zingaretti issued a call for unity Monday, reiterating that the key decision on whether and when to call an early election is in the hands of President Sergio Mattarella. He added that the Democrats are not afraid of facing an early ballot.

But former premier Matteo Renzi, who still has a strong influence among the Democrats' senators, suggested Sunday the party should seek a possible alliance with M5S and other moderate forces to stop Salvini and derail his plan for a new election in October.

Italy has to draft a painful budget law by the end of October and have it approved by parliament by the end of the year. The government in place will have to find about 23 billion euro ($25.8 billion) in financial resources to avoid a planned sales tax hike, which would prove highly unpopular with voters and weigh on the electoral campaign.

Depending on the outcome of the no-confidence vote, the president could still try to guide the creation of a transition government, headed by Conte or someone else, to handle the budget law and lead Italy to a new election that could be as late as next year.

Still, it's not clear that such a government would win the needed majority in parliament.

Salvini's strong anti-migrant stance is credited with the League's surge in popularity. After claiming just 17% of the vote in Italy's 2018 national election, the League won 34% in European elections this spring.

M5S, meanwhile, have seen their support shrink from nearly 33% in the 2018 election to just 17% in the European elections in May.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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