Rome-Italy’s politically turbulent history surfaced again during a particularly unstable period on Wednesday, as a government crisis began with a pandemic that destroyed the country and raised doubts about its leadership and increased political struggle .
The government is a convenient and unstable alliance between increasingly unpopular populists and center-left organizations, and appears to be on the verge of bankruptcy amid prolonged power struggles, revenge plots and ideological disputes over EU bailout funds.
Italy is now in a familiar period of political uncertainty, but given the pandemic, this is far more dangerous.
When the government crisis broke out, Italy was the first European country to be hit hardest by the virus and was also the most devastated. It is currently implementing a vaccination program, and the country hopes for it.
Italian voters mostly do not understand or care about the intrigue and fighting between political leaders, and they worry that this collapse may hinder Italy’s response to the virus and delay its return to normalcy.
At a press conference on Wednesday evening, the center-left politician Mr. Lenz formally announced his resignation. Two of the ministers have already resigned. He did not rule out joining another government led by Mr. Conte, but he said that the prime minister used the pandemic as an excuse to bypass the democratic system and force it.
He said: “It is precisely because of epidemics that it is necessary to respect democratic rules.”
Lenz said that there is a tacit understanding among many people in the Democratic Party he once led. He said that more populists in the government pay more attention to likes on social media than serious governance. He said Mr. Conte’s government failed to make progress on infrastructure projects, did not invest in work for young Italians, and did not fully condemn the supporters of President Trump who stormed the US Capitol a week ago.
He said that most importantly, the ideological populists in Mr. Conte’s government refused to accept the billions of euros in relief funds provided by the European Union for the Italian health system.
In the political situation in Italy, the reaction to Mr. Renzi’s vacation was swift and negative. Leaders of various countries lamented that Mr. Renzi’s actions were unreasonable. They were politically motivated and pushed the country into the abyss.
“A serious mistake made by a few people, and we will all pay for it,” Andrea Orlando, a former ally of Mr. Renzi, the Democrat, wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Conte’s government can manage to maintain a majority of seats in Parliament, It may be through a reorganization of the current cabinet. However, without Mr. Lenz’s approval, it will become more difficult.
Mr. Conte may have just resigned, prompting the government to dissolve in the worst national crisis facing Italy since World War II. Then, the Italian president can ask people who have enough support, and may even invite Mr. Conte again to establish another government that will be approved in Parliament.
However, if no new and lasting alliance is found, then the political crisis may eventually initiate new elections under potentially dangerous conditions and open the door to the return of nationalist forces.
Mr. Lenz’s critics were all the rage, and he saw that a revengeful and ambitious politician now had only destructive power, but could not resist using it.
Mr. Lenz is a skilled political operator in the center-left organization, and he effectively excluded the nationalist leader Matteo Salvini in 2019. After Mr. Salvini surpassed his ruling coalition and seized power, Mr. Lenz seized this moment and swallowed his power. He has established an unlikely alliance between the Democratic Party and the populist five-star movement, and this pride has cost him years of losing power. That deal prevented the new elections that Mr. Salvini was expected to win and shut him out.
Mr. Renzi quickly left the Democratic Party and formed a small party, Italia Viva, but did not receive any real attention. But it has enough members of Congress to play a decisive role in the survival of the five-star and Democratic government.
Tensions between Mr. Conte and Mr. Renzi broke out in December, when Mr. Conte announced the formation of another working group to determine how to use the 200 billion euros (approximately US$243 billion) EU recovery fund.
Mr. Renzi also asked the government to accept another 36 billion euros (approximately US$44 billion) provided by the European Union for the Italian health system. The five-star, who came to power to express their anger at Brussels’ anti-establishment system, rejected the source of this funding, the European Stability Mechanism, which is abomination of its populist roots.
For several weeks, Mr. Conte and Mr. Lenz played a chicken game. Mr. Lenz has already gained popular support in the underground, which reduces the disadvantages of doing unpopular things. No loss, this gave him a greater influence in the confrontation with Mr. Conte, and Mr. Conte actually succumbed to many demands of Mr. Lenz.
But the Prime Minister firmly refused to accept funding from the European Stability Mechanism.
On the eve of Mr. Renzi’s leap, the populist leader Mr. Salvini coveted the possibility of taking power again.
He told reporters on the edge of the protests in Rome: “It’s better to be an election or a center-right government than this kind of quarrel.”
On Wednesday night, Lenz said he opposed the possibility of holding new elections. In order to avoid this situation, he can provide support to Mr. Conte, but in a crisis, things are unpredictable and may get out of control. Therefore, government members tried to pull Mr. Lenz back from the edge.
If the toughest member of the “five-star” leads to the downfall of Mr. Lenz’s government, he will no longer cooperate with Mr. Lenzi’s party.
It is not clear that it is Mr. Renzi from Italy.
Some leading virologists in Italy are clearly disgusted by political interference in medical malpractice.
“The orchestra was playing while the Titanic sank,” Massimo Galli, director of the infectious disease department at the Luigi Sacco Hospital in Milan, said on Italian TV. “Next week there is a chance to put the hospital in serious trouble again.”