Italian PM wins crucial vote in Senate with very thin margin

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Premier Giuseppe Conte delivers his speech at the Senate, in Rome, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Conte fights for his political life with an address aimed at shoring up support for his government, which has come under fire from former Premier Matteo Renzi's tiny but key Italia Viva (Italy Alive) party over plans to relaunch the pandemic-ravaged economy. (Andreas Solaro/Pool via AP)

ROME – Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte squeaked through a crucial Senate confidence vote Tuesday night, allowing him to keep his wobbly coalition afloat but failing to secure the reliable support needed from lawmakers to help him effectively govern the country with its pandemic-pummeled economy.

The vote went 156 to 140 in his favor. There were 16 abstentions, thanks to a small but key coalition ally that bolted the center-left coalition last week, jeopardizing Conte's survival at the nation's helm. Two of the yes votes came from the center-right opposition party led by ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

An absolute majority in the Senate is 161, so to pass critical legislation, including aid to help Italy's battered economy, Conte faces the unpleasant prospect of having to rely on lawmakers outside his coalition.

Conte tweeted that “now the aim is to make this majority more solid. Italy doesn't have a minute to lose. Right to work to overcome the health emergency and the economic crisis.”

Had he lost, Conte would have been required to resign. He could till opt to hand in his resignation to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, in a bid to be tapped anew to try to cobble together a revamped, more solid coalition.

Conte's tweet indicated, however, that he wanted to try to forge on, no matter how hobbled his coalition was left by the defection of lawmakers loyal to former Premier Matteo Renzi.

With the vote barely counted, right-wing opposition members started demanding Conte and his oft-bickering, shrunken coalition quit.

Among them was Giorgia Meloni, who heads the fast-rising far-right Brothers of Italy party.