ROME (REUTERS) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday (July 20) demanded unity from his coalition partners as his price for staying in office but his call appeared to widen cracks in the government, leaving his fate in the balance.
Mr Draghi set out a series of issues facing Italy, ranging from the war in Ukraine to social inequality and rising prices, and said political parties need to get behind him if he is to steer the country to elections due in the first half of 2023.
"The only way, if we want to stay together, is to rebuild this pact, with courage, altruism and credibility," Mr Draghi said in an uncompromising speech to the upper house, adding that this is what Italians want.
If Mr Draghi decides the government can no longer continue, the president is likely to call elections in September or October.
Italy has not had an autumn election since World War II, as that is the period normally reserved for drawing up the budget.
Mr Draghi tendered his resignation last week after the populist Five Star Movement failed to back a confidence vote.
But President Sergio Mattarella turned him down and told him to go back before Parliament to see if he could revive the 18-month-old administration.
Mr Draghi's call for unity appears to have been in vain.
Conservative parties within the coalition said they would remain in government only if Five Star is excluded.
In a joint statement, the League and Forza Italia parties said they want a major government shake-up to reflect any new composition - a demand that Mr Draghi has previously ruled out.
Five Star said Mr Draghi has not met their demands in his address to the Senate.
The Senate session was suspended for 90 minutes following a speech by Senator Ettore Licheri of Five Star, delaying an expected reply from Mr Draghi to around 1500 GMT (11pm Singapore time). After that a vote is due to be held on the government, with a result due at around 1730 GMT.
The former European Central Bank chief has enough backing to remain in office without Five Star.
But he has so far rejected that option because his original mandate was to lead a national unity coalition with parties from across the political spectrum.
However, government officials have suggested he might decide to carry on even if he does not have the backing of Five Star, pointing to the large number of parliamentarians who have left the party in recent months.
There might be further desertions as a result of the ongoing crisis, politicians have said.
Some 60 lawmakers walked out in June, led by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who accused the Five Star leadership of plotting to unseat Mr Draghi.