Italy’s Politicians Bicker as Covid Rages

Italy’s latest political crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time.

With a pandemic death toll surpassing 85,000, an economy in recession, public finances deteriorating, and Italy preparing to host Group of 20 leaders this year, the country is now locked in a classic political imbroglio where the outcome is by no means certain.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s decision to resign today is a maneuver to in fact stay in power. He wanted to avoid a Senate vote this week that he may have lost — thus endangering his chances to form a new administration.

By stepping down, John Follain, Chiara Albanese and Alessandra Migliaccio explain, he can ask President Sergio Mattarella for a mandate to form a “unity government.”

This all started when a junior partner in the ruling coalition, led by ex-Premier Matteo Renzi, decided to withdraw, criticizing Conte’s handling of the coronavirus and how to spend aid from the European Union.

Unlike Renzi, Conte, a 56-year-old lawyer plucked from Florence, remains popular.

The Italian public and investors alike are baffled by the timing of the latest machinations, with millions of people suffering from shuttered businesses and lost jobs, the virus spreading and the vaccine rollout at a critical stage.

In a number of other countries, most notably the U.S. under Donald Trump, personal politics has also at times overshadowed efforts to deal with the worst global health catastrophe in a century.

But as the phrase “Nero fiddles while Rome burns” reminds us, Italians may not take too kindly to politicians spending so much of their time and energy fighting with each other rather than against the virus. — Karl Maier

The Senate after a confidence vote on Conte on Jan. 19.

Photographer: Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse

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Global Headlines

Impeachment moves | Senators will be sworn in as jurors in Trump’s impeachment trial today and issue a summons to the former president. But they will then basically set it aside for two weeks as they plow through confirmation votes on President Joe Biden’s cabinet and work on another pandemic relief plan.

  • Janet Yellen won confirmation to become Treasury secretary, while the Senate plans a vote today on Antony Blinken’s nomination as secretary of state.
  • Biden said he’s open to reshaping his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief proposal as the administration seeks a bipartisan deal, though he didn’t rule out pursuing a Democrat-only route for passage.

Pinch point | Taiwan’s role in the world economy has come to prominence as the auto industry suffers shortages of semiconductors, forcing carmakers to halt production and idle plants. It shows how the chip-making skills of TSMC, the world’s largest foundry, have handed Taiwan political and economic leverage in a world where technology is being enlisted in the rivalry between the U.S. and China — a standoff unlikely to ease under the Biden administration.

  • China’s provinces are targeting economic growth of at least 6% this year, with Hubei, the center of the coronavirus outbreak last year, expecting to hit double digits.
  • Read how China’s exporters have become victims of their own success.

Vaccine weapon | Europe’s drive to ramp up Covid-19 vaccinations is presenting Moscow with an opportunity. President Vladimir Putin scored a propaganda win by rolling out his state-backed Sputnik shot in the Crimean peninsula he annexed in 2014. Ukraine, on the other hand, has nothing to give its people: The supplies it secured either haven’t been cleared for use or haven’t arrived.

Another defection | North Korea’s former top diplomat in Kuwait defected to South Korea, according to news reports in Seoul. Ryu Hyun-woo is a son-in-law of Jon Il Chun, the former head of North Korea’s “Office 39,” which is suspected of managing illicit financial activities to enrich Pyongyang’s elites. The Maeil Business Newspaper said Ryu left in 2019 because he wanted his child to have a better life.

relates to Italy’s Politicians Bicker as Covid Rages

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, leader Kim Jong Un attends a military parade during the ruling party congress in Pyongyang on Jan. 14.

Source: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

Balancing act | As officials in Vietnam’s Communist Party jockey for position during a twice-a-decade meeting to refresh the leadership ranks, they largely agree on one thing: Closer ties with the U.S. will be even more important to boost the economy and counter a rising China. The new leaders, set to be announced on Feb. 2, face the goal of turning Vietnam into an industrialized economy by 2030 with per-capita GDP about double what it is today.

What to Watch

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for Biden to declare a climate emergency, a controversial move that would give the administration sweeping authority to circumvent Congress to combat global warming.
  • The virtual Davos meeting continues today with speakers including Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

  • Hong Kong is unlikely to see an exodus under a U.K. visa program for holders of special British passports, a government adviser said, adding any departures would be offset by arrivals from mainland China.

  • China and India agreed to push for an early disengagement of front-line troops after a clash along their contested border, the first violence in the area in seven months.

And finally … Thousands of farmers on tractors entered New Delhi today on India’s Republic Day, escalating protests against agricultural laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Farmers have been camped at various border points around the capital for two months, putting the administration on the defensive and rejecting overtures aimed at ending the impasse.

Trucks Idled by Indian Farmer Protests

Truck drivers near the Delhi-Haryana border crossing yesterday.

Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg


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