Rome – Italians woke up to political uncertainty on Friday amid an unprecedented government crisis that has put Mario Draghi’s future as prime minister in limbo and raised the specter of a snap election.
The prime minister of Europe’s third-largest economy will have until Wednesday to shore up his political support to save his coalition government which is tackling a host of challenges, from soaring inflation to war in Ukraine.
The Italian technocrat leader, former director of the European Central Bank, has significantly raised his country’s profile on the world stage and in Europe.
The crisis comes at a critical time for the country, which stands to lose billions in post-recovery EU funds if the rollout of key structural reforms is threatened.
But he has chaired an unruly coalition of Italy’s main political parties, apart from the far-right Brothers of Italy, which has grown increasingly fractious ahead of general elections due early next year.
The crisis was sparked on Thursday after the populist Five Star movement, a coalition member with dismal polls, opted out of a vote of confidence for a cost-of-living assistance package it won is opposed to certain provisions, causing the resignation of Draghi.
President Sergio Mattarella, who acts as a kingmaker in times of political crisis, refused to accept the resignation, sending the prime minister back to parliament next week to assess the situation.
“We have a very open situation, the pressure is mounting, there is a lot of diplomatic work going on behind the scenes and we still have four days ahead of us,” Policy Sonar analyst Francesco Galietti told AFP.
– “Italy risks chaos” –
While political crises are nothing new in Italy, “this one is unprecedented as geopolitical factors take precedence,” Galietti said, citing tensions with Russia over its war in Ukraine.
Draghi is due to visit Algeria, a major gas supplier after Italy’s boycott of Russian gas, on Monday and Tuesday. Upon his return, he will deliver a speech to parliament, with or without a vote of confidence.
Politicians and pundits view the possibility of Draghi continuing his term as extremely difficult, even if he technically has the numbers to survive a vote of confidence with or without Five Star.
“The Draghi government and the coalition that supported it must continue, but for now I see it as very, very difficult,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told RTL 102.5 radio on Friday.
Accounts of behind-the-scenes political tussles filled Italian newspapers on Friday.
“Draghi resigns, Italy risks chaos,” reads the daily La Stampa.
– ‘Suicidal instincts’ –
Corriere della Sera columnist Massimo Franco wrote that Draghi’s resignation, forced by the Five Stars, represents the “triumph of the suicidal instincts of political Italy”.
The Five Star Movement “preferred to destroy the attempted transition to stability and normality represented by the anomaly of a national unity executive headed by the most eminent personality available,” he wrote.
He added that the party “desperately needs a few percentage points to survive”.
Pundits see the Five Star’s move as an attempt to appeal to its base ahead of next year’s election, given the polls are trailing 11%.
While Italy’s leftist and centrist parties have called for support for Draghi, the Brothers of Italy and the League party have called for early elections.
“With the resignation of Draghi…this legislature is over,” wrote the leader of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, on Facebook.
“This parliament no longer represents Italians… Elections now,” wrote Meloni, whose party is currently leading voter intention polls.
The prospect of early elections is seen by some political leaders as desirable “because the government’s ability to enact additional reforms and make politically difficult choices is close to exhaustion”, wrote economist Lorenzo Codogno of LC Macro Advisors in a note.
“Draghi does not want his tenure to die with painful and slow tortures.”