Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, has said he would seek a “high profile” government, as speculation grew that it may be led by the former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi.
Mattarella made the announcement after ruling coalition partners failed to form a majority following Giuseppe Conte’s resignation as prime minister last week.
Mattarella said he was left with two choices: either call snap elections or nominate a technical government (one consisting of appointed technocrats rather than elected representatives) to manage the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s economic and social challenges.
He did not say who he would pick to lead the government, but Draghi – nicknamed “Super Mario” for his role in saving the euro – has been summoned to meet Mattarella on Wednesday. The move follows days of speculation in the Italian press about Draghi’s possible appointment as a technical prime minister.
Lower house speaker Roberto Fico, a politician from the Five Star Movement (M5S) who was tasked with exploring the possibility of rebuilding the coalition with Conte leading it, told reporters earlier on Tuesday night that “there remain differences”.
The crisis was triggered when former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his small Italia Viva party from the ruling majority in January due to clashes over the government’s handling of the pandemic and post-Covid economic recovery plan.
In a tweet before Mattarella’s announcement, Renzi said his party, which barely attracts 3% in polls, had concluded there was a “rupture” in the uphill efforts to bridge policy differences with its coalition allies, which include the Democratic party. M5S and the Democratic party (PD) had backed Conte.
Conte survived two confidence votes in both houses of parliament in January but not by enough to secure a majority.
Conte, a law professor, was plucked out of nowhere to lead his first government, a coalition between M5S and Matteo Salvini’s far-right League, in June 2018. That partnership collapsed in August 2019, paving the way for his second government.
The M5S-PD alliance was essentially orchestrated by Renzi, then a member of the Democratic party, in order to stave off elections that could have seen the far right seize power. Within weeks of the government being sworn in, Renzi formed Italia Viva while promising to support the ruling majority.
Renzi’s main point of contention was Italy’s plans for spending the €200bn-plus it is due to receive from the European recovery fund.
The political crisis comes in the midst of the pandemic, which has claimed almost 90,000 lives in Italy, and as the country struggles with its worst recession since the second world war.