ROME – Italian President Sergio Mattarella has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and is preparing for consultations on forming a new government, officials said on Tuesday.
Conte will stay on as head of a caretaker administration pending the results of the talks, Mattarella’s office said in a statement.
Mattarella plans to meet Wednesday with the leaders of the Senate and lower house, along with representatives of several minority parties.
The president is scheduled on Thursday to receive delegates from Italy’s major parties, according to the statement.
Depending on the outcome of those discussions, Mattarella may ask one of the party chiefs to try to form a government with a working majority in the current legislature.
The other options would be to dissolve parliament and convene elections in the fall, or delays the balloting at least until next year in favor of appointing a technocratic administration.
Elections would have to be held within a window of 45-70 days after Parliament is dissolved, meaning that the soonest a new ballot could take place is October.
Italy’s next general elections must be held by May 28, 2023.
“The ongoing crisis undermines the action of this government that stops here (...) I take this opportunity to communicate that I will present my resignation as head of the government to the president of the Republic,” Conte told lawmakers in the Senate earlier Tuesday.
His announcement came after the leader of the far-right League party, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, tabled a motion of no-confidence against him.
Conte blasted Salvini, accusing him of opportunism and “institutional irresponsibility” that had plunged the country into a crisis that had “sent the country off into a spiral of political and financial uncertainty.”
“The League said it didn’t want to continue in this government coalition and has asked for immediate elections. It presented a motion of no-confidence against the government and asked for a date to be set,” Conte said.
“Salvini’s decision was a grave (one) that carries consequences for the political, economic and social life of the country,” he added.
The crisis began on Aug. 8, when Salvini, who is also interior minister, said that the League could no longer govern Italy in coalition with the populist Five Star Movement and called for new elections as soon as possible.
Conte said on Tuesday that the political turmoil put Italy in a position of weakness in relation to the institutions of the European Union amid jockeying for positions on the incoming European Commission.
Salvini, who was sitting next to Conte in the Senate, said afterwards that he would “do the same again,” alluding to his having called the motion against the prime minister.
“I’m not afraid of the opinion of the Italians. Whoever fears the opinion of the Italians is not a free man,” Salvini said.
The spell in government has made Salvini a major force in Italian politics, thanks mainly to his success in pushing anti-immigrant policies.
Two weeks ago, the League and its rightist allies passed legislation imposing massive fines on NGOs who rescue migrants at sea.
Salvini said on Tuesday that the League was not afraid of elections in the autumn or a possible alliance between the Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party, who could form a government with a parliamentary majority.
An earlier attempt to forge a partnership between Five Star and the Democrats ended in failure in March 2018.
The most prominent figure in the Democratic Party, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, has publicly urged his party to ally with Five Star, while insisting that he would not be a member of such a coalition government.
Sen. Renzi, who holds no official position in the party, is at odds with the Democratic leadership on this question, though the head of the Democrats in the Senate, Andrea Marcucci, said Tuesday the party was ready to talk to Five Star.
“Yes to a dialogue with Five Stars. Later we will see if conditions exist to give life to a government,” Marcucci said.
Later, however, Democratic Party general secretary Nicola Zingaretti said that while he shared Conte’s criticisms of Salvini, the outgoing prime minister must also bear responsibility for the mistakes of the government.
“No new political phase can begin without acknowledging what has happened in these months,” Zingaretti said in a statement.