Italian Premier Mario Draghi’s national unity government appeared to be headed for collapse Thursday after key coalition allies boycotted a confidence vote, signaling the likelihood of an early election and a renewed period of uncertainty for Italy and Europe at a critical time.
Draghi told Parliament’s lower chamber on Thursday that he was heading to see President Sergio Mattarella, suggesting his resignation was imminent. Among his options, Mattarella could ask Draghi to stay on in a caretaker role until an early election.
Draghi’s government 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 coronavirus pandemic recovery program.
Instead, the center-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.
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 EU’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.
Mattarella had rejected Draghi’s original resignation last week when he first offered it after the 5-Stars boycotted a confidence vote tied to a bill aimed at helping Italy endure soaring inflation and energy costs. Mattarella asked Draghi to return to Parliament to brief lawmakers on the situation, which he did on Wednesday in appealing to party leaders to listen to the calls for unity from ordinary Italians.
While the next steps were unclear, the outcome suggested Mattarella could dissolve Parliament, paving the way for early elections as soon as late September or early October. The legislature’s five-year term had been due to expire in 2023.
In briefing senators Wednesday, Draghi had appealed for the parties to heed the spontaneous appeals for unity from Italian mayors, doctors’ associations and ordinary citizens who had signed petitions in recent days begging Draghi to stay on.
“You don’t have to give the answer to me. You have to give it to all Italians,” he said.
Opinion polls have indicated neck-to-neck percentages for the center-left Democratic Party and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, which had remained in the opposition to Draghi’s coalition.
The Democrats had tried to salvage its alliance with the 5-Stars, but the populist party has fractured over the crisis leaving the Democrats without a strong ally heading into a possible campaign.
The Brothers of Italy has long been allied with the center-right Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi and the League of Matteo Salvini, suggesting that a center-right alliance would likely prevail in any election and propel Brothers’ leader Giorgia Meloni to become Italy’s first female premier.