Italy headed for early elections as Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigns
Election to be held within 70 days to decide successor to Draghi, a strong advocate for Ukraine
Italian Premier Mario Draghi resigned Thursday after his ruling coalition fell apart, and the country's president dissolved Parliament, paving the way for new elections.
The moves dealt a destabilizing blow to Italy and Europe at a time of inflation and economic uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and Russia's war in Ukraine.
President Sergio Mattarella said the new election must be held within 70 days under Italy's constitution. He said he took the step because the lack of support for Draghi also indicated there was "no possibility" of forming another government that could carry a majority of lawmakers.
Parliament's five-year-term would have expired in March 2023.
Draghi tendered his resignation to Mattarella during a morning meeting at the Quirinale Palace. Mattarella, who had rejected a similar resignation offer last week, asked Draghi's government to remain on in a caretaker fashion, the president's office said.
"Thank you for all the work done together in this period," Draghi told the lower Chamber of Deputies before he went to see Mattarella. Clearly moved by the applause, he repeated a quip that even central bank chiefs have hearts.
Mattarella had last year tapped the former European Central Bank chief — who was known as "Super Mario" for his "whatever it takes" rescue of the euro — to pull Italy out of the pandemic last year and lay the groundwork to make use of the EU's recovery funds.
Draghi's government of national unity imploded Wednesday 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.
Instead, the centre-right parties of Forza Italia and the League and the populist 5-Star Movement boycotted a confidence vote in the Senate, in a clear sign they were done with Draghi's 17-month government.
Instability could ripple to Europe amid war
The turmoil couldn't have come at a worse time for the eurozone's third-largest economy.
Like many countries, Italy is facing soaring prices for everything from food to household utilities as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. On top of that, it is also suffering through a prolonged drought that is threatening crops and struggling to implement its EU-financed pandemic recovery program.
Any instability in Italy could ripple out to the rest of Europe, also facing economic trouble, and deprive the EU of a respected statesman in its efforts to keep up a united front against Russia, as Draghi had helped shape Europe's tough response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia has vacationed with Russian President Vladimir Putin and considered him a friend; the League's Matteo Salvini opposed EU sanctions against Russia after its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula; and 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte — another former prime minister — has opposed Italian military aid to Ukraine.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who left the 5-Star party this year, accused Conte last week of giving Putin a gift.
Italy could see 1st female PM
Democrat leader Enrico Letta was enraged out the outcome, saying parliament had betrayed Italy and urging Italians to respond at the polls. "Let Italians show at the ballot that they are smarter than their representatives," he tweeted.
Left out of the governing coalition, the hard-right Brothers of Italy have gained in the polls during Draghi's time as leader. As a result, Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers could become Italy's first female prime minister after the upcoming vote.
Italian newspapers on Thursday were united in their outrage at the surreal outcome, given Italy is dealing with soaring inflation and energy costs, Russia's war against Ukraine and outstanding reforms needed to clinch the remainder of the European Union's 200 billion euros in recovery funds.
"Shame," headlined La Stampa on the front page. "Italy Betrayed," said La Repubblica. "Farewell to Draghi's Government," said Corriere della Sera.
But the 5-Stars, the biggest vote-getter in the 2018 national election, had been chafing for months that their priorities of a basic income and minimum salary, among other things, were being ignored, leading to last week's boycott.