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Italy's Mario Draghi braced to step down again - how did we get here?

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By Euronews  with AP
Italian PM Mario Draghi (C), Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio (L), Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini (R) delivers his speech at the Senate in Rome, Wednesday 20 July 2022
Italian PM Mario Draghi (C), Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio (L), Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini (R) delivers his speech at the Senate in Rome, Wednesday 20 July 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo / Andrew Medichini

For the second time in a week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is set to hand his resignation to Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

It comes after three coalition partners refused to support the economist in a vote of confidence in the Italian Senate.

Draghi has sought to rebuild a majority and actually won Wednesday's crucial vote, but the loss of support from the right-wing parties sent the former economist back to the Quirinal Palace in Rome.

Only Mattarella has the power to dissolve parliament and send Italian citizens back to the polls in fresh elections later this year.

Draghi's departure could alternatively result in attempts to form a new government with another Prime Minister.

A resignation offer and ... another?

Italy has seen dozens of governments since the end of World War II, and is accustomed to political crises.

Draghi, a technocrat, was appointed in February 2021 to lead a unity government to help the European Union country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his 17 months in office, he has gained statesman status in Western Europe for his staunch support of aid for Ukraine and for his shepherding efforts to enact economic reforms.

Draghi offered to step down last week after one major coalition partner -- the populist 5-Star Movement (M5S) -- boycotted a similar Senate vote on a relief bill for soaring energy costs.

Despite also winning that confidence vote, Draghi said he would resign because his national unity coalition "no longer exists".

But in a surprise twist, President Mattarella declined to accept Draghi's resignation and sent him back to Parliament and try and garner solid support.

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 turned out for 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.

'Impossible to ignore' public support

On Wednesday, Draghi said the spontaneous 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.”

Draghi had stressed that Italy does not need fresh elections, highlighting the importance of implementing EU pandemic recovery funds and judicial reforms. 

The country is also facing a damaging drought and is aiming to reduce its reliance on Russian gas.

But Draghi has once again indicated that he is no longer able to lead a stable Italian government.

The political crisis comes as Italian political parties were already preparing for national elections, due by early 2023. Opinion polls suggest a bloc of conservative parties would win a majority, and so an early election date this autumn could be in their favour.

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.