Italian Premier Mario Draghi resigned on Thursday after key coalition allies boycotted a confidence vote, signalling the likelihood of early elections and a renewed period of uncertainty for Italy and Europe at a critical time.
Draghi tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella during a morning meeting at the Quirinale Palace. Mattarella’s office said the president had “taken note” of the resignation and asked Draghi’s government to remain on in a caretaker fashion.
Draghi’s government imploded Thursday after members of his uneasy coalition of right, left and populists rebuffed his appeal to band back together to finish the legislature’s natural term and ensure implementation of the European Union-funded pandemic recovery program.
The resignation means voters go to the polls again for a new general election - the second in four years - which is likely to take place in late September or early October.
Matteo Salvini's League, Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, and Giuseppe Conte's Five Star Movement (M5S) all decided to abstain from a confidence vote in the Senate on Wednesday evening.
Draghi went on to win that confidence vote 95 to 38, however his allies' abstentions mean the end of the national unity pact sealed in February 2021, when Draghi took office.
Mattarella had rejected the 74-year-old's resignation on 14 July, after M5S abstained during a vote on a stimulus package.
President Mattarella however had called on Draghi to reconvene parties in parliament - and try to gather the necessary support to stay on.
Draghi renewed his calls for unity in his Senate speech on Wednesday - but then The League and Forza Italia announced they would no longer stay in the coalition as long as the M5S would be part of it.
PM Draghi: the popular non-politician
In marked contrast to many previous political crises in Rome, many Italians have pleaded with Draghi to stay.
An online petition called "Draghi, stay" -- launched by former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi -- collected more than 100,000 signatures by late Monday.
Hundreds of rank-and-file citizens and political leaders also participated in pro-Draghi rallies in Rome, Milan and other cities.
Some 1,000 mayors from rival political parties have even signed an open letter to Draghi exhorting him to remain.
Various lobbies, including a doctors' group, also pitched "please stay" pleas over worries about any government leadership void amid surging coronavirus infections.
On Wednesday, Draghi said the popular support for his government is “unprecedented and impossible to ignore".
The former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) said he was personally moved by the spontaneous appeals from ordinary Italian medical workers, who he described as “heroes of the pandemic.”
Face with the threat of the government dissolving, many have openly criticised Italy's political right-wing.
The European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni slammed "irresponsible" parties for abandoning Draghi and "provoking a storm".
"Now is the time to love Italy: difficult months lie ahead, but we are a great country," he wrote on Twitter.