Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday after a key coalition ally pulled his party’s support over Mr. Conte’s 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 Mr. Conte to keep the government running in the near-term, Mr. Mattarella’s office said.
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 create a spending plan for the 209 billion euros ($254 billion) Italy is getting in European Union recovery funds.
Mr. Conte’s coalition government was thrown into turmoil earlier this month when a junior party headed by ex-Premier Matteo Renzi yanked its support. Efforts to lure centrist and independent senators into the coalition to fill the hole left by Mr. Renzi have met little success. 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, which will give him more time to find a deal.
Mr. Mattarella will start a rapid round of consultations with party leaders on Wednesday afternoon to test the political waters, according to Reuters. If Mr. Mattarella thinks Mr. Conte can secure the necessary backing to pull together a new administration, the president will likely give him a few days to try to finalize a deal and draw up a new cabinet.
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However, if Mr. Conte cannot find new allies, Mr. Mattarella will have to come up with an alternative candidate deemed capable of piecing together a workable coalition.
If all else fails, the president will have to call an election, two years ahead of schedule, although political analysts say this is the least likely scenario.
The current coalition of the 5-Star Movement, Democratic Party, and smaller Leu party are all hoping for a third Conte government. Mr. Conte’s first government 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. Conte is a lawyer with no direct political affiliation, but is close to 5-Star, the largest party in parliament.
Mr. Renzi has accused Mr. Conte of lacking a strategic vision, saying he risked squandering the EU recovery funds on handouts rather than long-term investments.
Mr. Salvini and center-right opposition parties are clamoring for an early election, hoping to capitalize on polls prior to the government crisis that showed high approval ratings for the League and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party led by Giorgia Meloni.
Mr. Salvini 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 that Mr. Conte 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 Monday.
Democratic leader Nicola Zingaretti says an early election is the last thing the country needs. He tweeted Monday: “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.”
Reuters also reports that opinion polls show Mr. Conte is Italy’s most popular leader, with an approval rating of 56%, almost 20 points above the next closest politician, according to a poll published by Corriere della Sera daily on Saturday.
If he is ousted from office, political sources have suggested he might try to cash in his popularity by forming his own party or else by taking charge of 5-Star.