ROME

The government of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte survived a key test in parliament on Wednesday, as two no-confidence motions against one of its ministers were rejected by the upper house.

Opposition parties had landed two motions in the Senate aiming to oust Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede, blamed for having mismanaged a delicate matter related to the release of mafia bosses from prison during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The votes in the Senate became an opportunity for a minor government force — the Italia Viva party led by former premier Matteo Renzi — to mount pressure on Conte’s government, threatening to vote with the opposition against Bonafede.

Renzi, however, announced in his Senate speech on Wednesday that his senators would back Bonafede and the Conte government, voting against the motions to avoid a possible government crisis.

“We will vote against the no-confidence motions, but we recognize they are based on true reasons,” Renzi told the Senate. “We will vote against them for political reasons because otherwise, Conte said he would resign.”

Both motions were rejected later with an ample majority.

“The concrete measures adopted during the emergency are the fruit of teamwork of the whole government, which has decided to consider justice a real priority,” said Bonafede, rejecting all criticism against him and the government.

Bonafede came under fire over the release of hundreds of mafiosi, who were transferred to house arrest earlier this month due to the high risks of contagion in overcrowded Italian prisons.

The controversy sparked by the minister’s decision forced him to backtrack, and some of the highest-profile mobsters have already returned to jail.

He was also harshly criticized for the alleged failure to appoint anti-mafia prosecutor Nino Di Matteo as head of the prison service in 2018, allegedly due to pressure from mafia bosses. Bonafede has denied all the accusations.

If the motions had passed, Bonafede would have been forced to resign, putting the whole government at risk amid the COVID-19 emergency.

The Conte government is facing mounting pressure over its handling of the pandemic as it struggles to conciliate security measures with the need to safeguard Italy’s fragile economy, allowing businesses to restart their activities.

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