Italian premier Giuseppe Conte has resigned after a key coalition ally withdrew his party’s support over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, setting the stage for consultations this week to determine if he can form a third government.
Mr Conte tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, who held off on any immediate decision other than to ask him to keep the government running in the near-term, Mr Mattarella’s office said.
The president will begin consulting leaders of political parties starting on Wednesday.
Mr Conte is hoping to get Mr Mattarella’s support to try to form a new coalition government that can steer the country as it battles the pandemic and an economic recession and creates a spending plan for the 209 billion euros (£185 billion) Italy is getting in European Union recovery funds.
His coalition government was thrown into turmoil earlier this month when a junior party headed by ex-premier Matteo Renzi ended its support. Mr Conte won confidence votes in parliament last week, but fell short of an absolute majority in the senate, forcing him to take the gamble of resignation.
Mr Mattarella can ask him to try to form a broader coalition government, appoint a largely technical government to steer the country through the pandemic or dissolve parliament and call an election two years early.
The current coalition of the 5-Star Movement, Democratic Party and smaller Leu party is hoping for a third Conte government.
His first administration starting in 2018 was a 5-Star alliance with the right-wing League party led by Matteo Salvini that lasted 15 months. His second, with the Democrats, lasted 16 months.
Mr Salvini and centre-right opposition parties are clamouring for an early election, hoping to capitalise on polls before the government crisis that showed high approval ratings for the League and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party led by Giorgia Meloni.
The League chief has blasted the “palace games and buying and selling of senators” of recent days as Mr Conte has tried to find new coalition allies, claiming he is incapable of leading Italy through the crisis.
“Let’s use these weeks to give the word back to the people and we’ll have five years of a serious and legitimate parliament and government not chosen in palaces but chosen by Italians,” Mr Salvini said on Monday.
Democratic leader Nicola Zingaretti said an early election is the last thing the country needs, tweeting: “With Conte for a new clearly European-centric government supported by an ample parliamentary base that will guarantee credibility and stability to confront the challenges Italy has ahead.”