Italian premier resigns, setting off scramble for new allies

Full Screen
1 / 5

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2019 file photo, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, left, shakes hands with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during the swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale Presidential Palace, in Rome. Italian Premier Conte was meeting Tuesday, Jan. 26. 2021 with his cabinet before heading to the presidential palace to offer his resignation after a key coalition ally pulled his partys support over Contes handling of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)

ROME – Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday after a key coalition ally pulled his party’s support over Conte’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, setting the stage for consultations this week to determine if he can form a third government.

Conte tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, who held off on any immediate decision other than to ask Conte to keep the government running in the near-term, Mattarella's office said. The president will begin consulting with leaders of political parties on Wednesday.

Conte hopes to get Mattarella's support to try to form a new coalition government that can steer the country as it battles the pandemic and an economic recession and creates a spending plan for the 209 billion euros ($254 billion) Italy is getting in European Union recovery funds.

The premier said in a message posted on Facebook that his resignation was aimed at achieving “a government that can save the nation” during the health, social and economic crisis provoked by the pandemic.

“The widespread suffering of citizens, deep social hardship and economic difficulties require a clear perspective and a government that has a larger and more secure majority,” Conte wrote.

Conte’s coalition government was thrown into turmoil earlier this month when a junior party headed by ex-Premier Matteo Renzi yanked its support. Conte won confidence votes in parliament last week, but fell short of an absolute majority in the Senate, forcing him to take the gamble of resignation.

Mattarella, Italy's largely ceremonial head of state, can ask Conte to try to form a broader coalition government, mandate a new prime minister to try to form a government from the same parties, appoint a largely technical government to steer the country through the pandemic or dissolve parliament and call an election two years early.

A technical government and early election are considered the least-likely outcomes. But Conte would need Renzi's support to form a new governing coalition or the backing of independents and the center-right Forza Italia party.