Italian senators have been called back from their summer holidays to set a date to debate a motion of no confidence in the government.
Leaders of Senate groups on Monday failed to reach an agreement over a timetable and the issue will now come to the entire chamber on Tuesday.
The far-right League party said last week its coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement had broken down, with the League leader Matteo Salvini demanding early elections, triggering a government crisis.
The League and its right-wing allies Forza Italia and Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) wanted a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government to be held in the Senate as soon as Wednesday.
Politicians from all parties in parliament emerged from Monday’s meeting of the Senate panel still arguing over when the League’s no-confidence motion should be heard.
They said Conte would address the Senate on or about August 20.
Eager to seize power for the far-right, Salvini, the deputy prime minister, wants to force an election as soon as possible to capitalise on his party’s rising support in opinion polls. He also wants the vote to take place when his senior coalition partner, the populist 5-Star Movement, is tanking in popularity.
The 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 on Monday, reiterating that the key decision on whether and when to call an early election remains in the hands of President Sergio Mattarella. He added that the Democrats were not afraid of facing an early ballot.
But former premier Matteo Renzi, who still has a strong influence among the Democrats, suggested on Sunday the party should seek a possible alliance with the 5-Stars and other moderate forces to stop Salvini.
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 some financial resources to avert a planned 23 billion euro ($25.8bn) sales tax increase, which would prove highly unpopular with voters and weigh on the electoral campaign.
Depending on the outcome of any no-confidence votes in the Senate and the House, 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 take place as late as next year.
Still, it’s not clear that such a government would win the needed majority in Parliament.
Salvini’s anti-migrant stance has been credited with causing the League’s surge in popularity. After claiming 17 percent of the vote in Italy’s 2018 national election, the party won 34 percent in European elections this spring.
The 5-Stars, meanwhile, have seen their support shrink from nearly 33 percent in the 2018 election to just 17 percent in the European elections in May.
Salvini, photographed at the weekend posing for shirtless selfies with supporters at the beach, has dominated Italian politics since forming a government with 5-Star. He has campaigned non-stop, promoting a “man of the people” image and touting a brutal clampdown on immigration and criminalising rescue workers saving lives in the Mediterranean.
However, his shock move to sink the government and cash in on his popularity is not going smoothly.
Some League voters have been dismayed by his decision to sink the government and have voiced dissent on social media. Salvini was booed and heckled during campaign stops in Sicily on Sunday.