Talks begin in Italy on Thursday to try to end the country’s political crisis.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, defeated in Sunday’s referendum on constitutional reform, tendered his resignation to the president on Wednesday night and now must be replaced as prime minister – however long that takes.
Consultations start on Thursday, led by President Sergio Mattarella, who has asked Renzi to carry on in a caretaker capacity until a solution is found.
That may involve asking a member of Renzi’s cabinet or party to try to form a new government.
Another option is early elections and, despite his resounding failure in this weekend’s public vote, Renzi says he and his centre-left Democratic Party are not scared to ask the people to decide.
“We’re not afraid of anything or anyone,” the 41-year-old told the party on Wednesday, before meeting the president.
“So if other political forces want new elections, once the Constitutional Court has made its ruling on the electoral law, they should say so clearly because here we all have to be responsible.”
Elections are due in 2018 but most opposition parties, including comedian Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, and the right-wing Northern League, are clamouring for a quick vote.
Northern League leader Matteo Salvini said on Wednesday his party would “take to the streets” if a clear indication of the timing of the next election had not been given within a week.
The political turmoil coincides with a crisis in Italy’s debt-laden banks.
Underscoring the financial stakes, Moody’s changed its outlook on the country’s bond rating to negative from stable, saying prospects for much-needed economic reform had shrunk after Italians rejected Renzi’s proposals to revise the constitution and streamline parliament.
Today’s consultations are beginning, despite it being a bank holiday in Italy. Given the risks of uncertainty, there is no time to lose.