Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte appealed on Monday for parliamentarians from outside his government to rally to coalition ranks, saying he needed broad-based support to forge ahead with a pro-European agenda.
"Help us to heal this wound," Conte told the lower house of parliament in a debate called after a junior partner quit his coalition, depriving him of an absolute majority and throwing Italy into political turmoil in the midst of the Covid crisis.
Looking to entice centrist and liberal lawmakers, Conte promised to revamp his policy agenda and shake up his cabinet, saying he wanted to modernise Italy and speed up implementation of a recovery plan for the recession-stricken economy.
"I ask for clear, transparent support, based on the strength and clarity of the proposal," Conte said, condemning the small Italia Viva party, headed by former premier Matteo Renzi, for abandoning the 17-month-old coalition.
"Let's be frank, we can't undo what has happened, we can't regain the trust and confidence that are essential conditions for working together. Now we have to turn the page," he said, apparently closing the door on any reconciliation with Renzi.
Italia Viva said it withdrew from the cabinet because it did not agree with the prime minister's handling of the twin coronavirus and economic crises.
Conte faces two days of parliamentary votes that will decide if his fragile coalition can stay in power or if it has lost its majority, opening the way for what are likely to be prolonged negotiations on a new government.
Attention is especially focused on the 321-seat Senate, where Conte looks certain to fall short of an absolute majority after his efforts to persuade centrists in opposition ranks at the weekend to rally to his side looked to have failed.
At least three of the upper house's six life senators are expected to back the government, but at present the most optimistic tally puts Conte on 157 votes, four short of an absolute majority.
However, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, a leading light in the largest coalition party, the 5-Star Movement, has said even a relative majority would do.
"It is a majority. The absolute majority is only needed for (votes on) budget changes and very few other acts. And when we need it, we will find it," he told Corriere della Sera daily.
A minority government will always find itself at the mercy of parliament, but Conte hopes that if he can overcome Tuesday's threat, centrist parliamentarians will drift into his camp over time and bolster his position.
The vote in the lower house is scheduled for sometime after 6.30 p.m. (1730 GMT), with Conte expected to cling to an absolute majority there. The crucial Senate vote is set for Tuesday afternoon.
Italia Viva has said it will return to the coalition if its policy demands are met, but both 5-Star and its main coalition ally, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), have said they want nothing more to do with Renzi, accusing him of betrayal.
Conte said there was "no plausible justification" for the walkout and warned that the political crisis risked damaging Italy at a time when it was president of the G20 group of major global economies.