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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Facing a parliamentary vote of no confidence, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is stepping down.
Conte announced his resignation on Tuesday, less than two weeks after Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's call for fresh elections. Speaking to members of the Italian Senate, he blasted Salvini as a "reckless" political opportunist whose maneuverings will have "major consequences on the country and its economy."
"[Salvini] has shown that he is following his own interests and those of his party," Conte added. "His decisions pose serious risks for this country."
On Aug. 8, Salvini announced he would decouple his right-wing Lega party from coalition partner the Five Star Movement (M5S), a leftist faction whose popularity among Italian voters is waning.
The move is seen as a high-stakes gamble to expand Lega's power base.
Owing largely to Salvini's staunch opposition to mass migration, the party is surging in popularity. Currently, Lega enjoys a commanding lead over its rivals, with 38% of the Italian electorate backing it. If the party were able to cross the 40% threshold in a new round of elections, it would be free to govern without a coalition partner and Salvini would be crowned prime minister.
Conte's resignation opens the door to a possible alliance between M5S and the left-wing Democratic Party, which could present a roadblock to Salvini.
But some analysts speculate that such an alliance would backfire, spurring more voters to embrace Lega.
"If I were to make a utilitarian calculation, with an [M5S-led] government we will reach 60% in a few months," said Lega Senate leader Massimiliano Romeo.
Romeo added that if Lega were shut out from the government, Italy, under leftist leadership, would again bow to globalists in Brussels, Berlin and Paris and be forced to participate in the European Union's open-door migration policy.
The country "would lose sovereignty," he warned. "And we would return under the thumb of [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel."
In his address, Conte also condemned Salvini for his appeals to faith, slamming the right-wing leader's frequent appeals to faith during rallies and parliamentary debates.
"Whoever holds government responsibilities should avoid, during political rallies, to put together, side by side, political slogans and religious symbols," Conte said, adding that Salvini's practice of brandishing the Rosary threatens to "cast a shadow upon the principle of secularism, a fundamental principle of the modern state."
Salvini, seated next to Conte, responded by kissing his Rosary.
Following the prime minister's announcement, Salvini took to the Senate floor and delivered his own speech. Included in his address was a prayer asking "Holy Mary" to intercede for Italy. A handful of Lega colleagues responded by holding their own Rosaries aloft.
Many present interpreted the move as a political provocation. One leftist senator shouted: "Show us the stigmata" at his Lega opponents, and the Senate president announced that displaying religious symbols in the parliamentary chamber was not allowed.
Salvini's recourse to the Rosary has rankled not only secularist opponents in Parliament, but leftists inside the Vatican.
In the past year, Pope Francis and other Church leaders have likened the deputy prime minister to Hitler, the biblical murderer Cain, the Antichrist and Satan. Observers note that whether or not Salvini's appeals to faith are, as some critics suggest, a political tactic, the fact remains that they do speak to a growing spiritual hunger among Italians today.
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