Italy is looking for a new prime minister again after Enrico Letta’s resignation was accepted by President Giorgio Napolitano.
Letta drove himself to the presidential residence, the Quirinale in Rome – amid yet more political turmoil in the country.
Letta announced on Thursday that he would stand down after a meeting of his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) voted in favour of changing the government.
The man expected to take over as prime minister is the new party leader Matteo Renzi, 39. He could be named premier as soon as this weekend, and would be the country’s youngest-ever leader.
The president is now beginning meetings with political parties to find a solution to the leadership crisis and pave the way for a new government.
There has been growing criticism over the slow pace of economic reform in Italy which left Letta increasingly isolated.
A low-key moderate, he was appointed in April last year to lead the cross-party coalition patched together after deadlocked elections had brought weeks of fruitless wrangling between rival parties.
Letta did not attend Thursday’s party meeting, which was brought forward from next week.
The Democratic Party supported Renzi’s call for a more pro-active government to pull Italy out of its economic slump.
The new party leader cited “uncertainty” and “instability” saying Italy could not go on under the current circumstances.
Matteo Renzi’s decision to bring down the prime minister matured over the past fortnight, according to people close to him, after mounting pressure from Italy’s business lobby which has criticised the Letta government for not doing enough to help the country’s struggling corporate landscape.
Renzi, who is the mayor of Florence and a rising star of the Democratic Party, was elected its leader in December.
Letta’s decision to resign has been welcomed by centre-right leader Angelino Alfano, whose party is in the governing coalition.
If Renzi is named prime minister, he will be Italy’s third unelected leader in succession after the technocrat Mario Monti and then Letta.
The last prime minister who won an election was Silvio Berlusconi, who stood down in 2011 after losing his parliamentary majority.
All this comes with the Italian economy in the doldrums. Unemployment is at its highest level in 40 years and the economy has shrunk by nine percent in seven years.
Economic data on Friday underlined the scale of the challenge Renzi faces in using his decisive, and at times ruthless, political tactics to tackle the deep structural problems that have made Italy one of the world’s slowest growing economies over the past two decades.
Statistics office ISTAT reported that the economy eked out growth of 0.1 percent in the final quarter of last year, the first rise in Italian gross domestic product since mid-2011.
The meagre scale of the increase underlines how far Italy has fallen behind other European economies including France or Spain, let alone the continent’s champion, Germany.
Despite the political and economic turmoil of recent years, Renzi has said a new government could last till 2018.