Italy's newly-appointed prime minister Paolo Gentiloni has won an initial confidence vote in the lower house of parliament, with a comfortable majority of 368 to 105.
The government's success was rendered easy by the fact that two major opposition forces, the Northern League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, both abandoned the chamber for the debate and the vote.
Earlier on Tuesday, in his first address to the house, Mr Gentiloni replied to those critics who have argued that his government is essentially a "photocopy" of the executive headed by his predecessor, Matteo Renzi.
Acknowledging that his government would be relying on the parliamentary majority which had supported Mr Renzi, he said: “For some people, this might seem to be a limitation but I am proud of this, I would claim that the good work that is behind us and the good results achieved managed to get this country going again...We are proud of these results ... and of these three years of government.”
Mr Gentiloni, who served as foreign minister under Mr Renzi, was nominated prime minister on Sunday by President Sergio Mattarella following the resignation last week of Mr Renzi after his 60-40 defeat in a referendum on constitutional reform.
The Gentiloni government was formed in less than 24 hours, being sworn into office on Monday evening. A vote of confidence in the new government takes place on Tuesday evening.
The composition of Mr Gentiloni’s cabinet underlines the extent to which this new executive is one of continuity, with 13 members of Mr Renzi’s government retaining their cabinet places and just five new ministers appointed.
More importantly, two of Mr Renzi's closest aides, namely former reforms minister Maria-Elena Boschi and former cabinet under-secretary Luca Lotti, remain in government, in the roles of cabinet under-secretary and sports minister respectively.
Early in his address to parliament, Mr Gentiloni paid tribute to the "coherence" shown by Mr Renzi in resigning in the wake of the referendum defeat, calling it an act that all Italians "should look on with respect". Calling his executive a "government of responsibility", Mr Gentiloni argued that Italy had a strong economy which was on the road to recovery, "gradually but slowly".
Highlighting the mistaken “prophecies” of an Italian economic meltdown in the wake of the No victory in the referendum, Mr Gentiloni added: “This [economic strength] is Italy...”.
The new prime minister explained that both he and Mr Mattarella, the president, had been keen to get a new government up and running as quickly as possible so that Italy would be able to fulfil its international commitments, starting with the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.
Other important future appointments include the 60th anniversary celebrations of the EU's founding Treaty of Rome next March and Italy's hosting of the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily next May.
Outlining his government’s programme, Mr Gentiloni indicated earthquake reconstruction, public administration reform and justice reform as priorities. He also suggested that attention must be focused not only on Italy’s impoverished south but also on the sufferings of the VAT-paying middle classes.
Curiously, Mr Gentiloni left the thorny problem of electoral reform, arguably the biggest item on his government agenda, to last. In the wake of last week’s referendum result, Italy finds itself in the anomalous situation of having two different electoral laws and systems for the senate and the lower house. Mr Mattarella and Mr Gentiloni are agreed that until Italy had one “homogeneous” system for both houses, there could be no general election.
Mr Gentiloni said his government would not be an “actor-protagonist” in the electoral reform debate, rather “it is up to you [parliament] to come up with ideas and go looking for solid agreement for them”.
Inevitably, both Mr Gentiloni's speech and the nature of his cabinet appointments have prompted bitter criticism from political rivals and commentators alike. Independent daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano observed: "So, the Italy which voted 'No', 60 per cent of the electorate, does not exist. The 'establishment'... is pretending that nothing has happened and has resurrected a 'Renzi II Without Renzi' which looks perfect for throwing more petrol on the burning fires of a nation which asks for more inclusion and yet, in return, receives more restoration..."
The Five Star Movement and the Northern League, which absented themselves for parliament for the confidence motion, have said that they will take their protest to the streets of Italy next weekend. The Gentiloni government must on Wednesday face a second confidence vote in the upper house senate, a chamber where his majority may not be rock-solid.