Los Angeles Times

Italy’s Draghi resigns after coalition shatters

Early elections are expected. The prime minister’s exit comes amid soaring prices and a drought.

- By Nicole Winfield

ROME — Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned Thursday after his ruling coalition fell apart, dealing a destabiliz­ing blow to the country and Europe at a time of severe economic uncertaint­y brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Draghi tendered his resignatio­n to President Sergio Mattarella during a morning meeting at the Quirinale Palace in Rome. Mattarella, who had rejected a similar resignatio­n offer last week, “took note” this time around and asked Draghi’s government to stay on in a caretaker capacity, the president’s office said. While the president could see if a new parliament­ary majority was possible, his office indicated that he would dissolve the legislatur­e and call early elections.

The turmoil couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Eurozone’s thirdlarge­st economy. Like many countries, Italy is facing soaring prices for essentials including food and household utilities, largely as a result of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. On top of that, it is also suffering through a prolonged drought that is threatenin­g crops, and is struggling to implement its EU-financed pandemic recovery program.

Any instabilit­y in Italy could ripple out to the rest of Europe, also facing economic trouble, and deprive the EU of a respected statesman as it seeks to keep up a united front against Russia.

Draghi, who is not a politician but a former chief of the European Central Bank, was brought in 17 months ago to navigate the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. But his government of national unity imploded Wednesday after members of his coalition of right, left and populists rebuffed his appeal to band back together to finish the Italian Parliament’s natural term.

Instead, the center-right parties of Forza Italia and the League, as well as the populist 5-Star Movement, boycotted a confidence vote in the Senate, in a clear sign that they were done with Draghi’s government.

“Thank you for all the work done together in this period,” Draghi told the Chamber of Deputies before he went to see Mattarella. Clearly moved by the applause, he repeated a quip that even central bank chiefs have hearts.

Dubbed “Super Mario” for his rescue of the euro during the Eurozone debt crisis, Draghi played a similar calming role in Italy in recent months. His very presence helped reassure financial markets about the debtladen nation’s public finances, and he managed to keep the country on track with economic reforms that the EU made a condition of its $200-billion pandemic recovery package.

He was a staunch supporter of Ukraine and became a leading voice in Europe’s response to Russia’s invasion — one of the issues that contribute­d to his downfall since the 5-Stars rankled at Italian military help for Ukraine.

Domestic concerns also played a role. The 5-Stars, the biggest vote-getter in the 2018 national election, chafed for months that their priorities of a basic income and minimum salary, among others, were ignored. The final straw for them was a decision to give Rome’s mayor extraordin­ary powers to manage the capital’s garbage crisis — powers that had been denied the party’s Virginia Raggi when she was mayor.

While he could not keep his fractious coalition together, Draghi appeared to still have broad support among the Italian public, many of whom have taken to the streets or signed open letters in recent weeks to plead with him to stay on.

Italian newspapers Thursday were united in their outrage at the outcome, given that Italy is dealing with soaring inflation and energy costs.

“Shame,” La Stampa’s front-page headline said. “Italy Betrayed,” said La Repubblica.

Nicola Nobile, associate director at Oxford Economics, warned that Draghi’s departure and the prospectiv­e lack of a fully functionin­g government for months could exacerbate economic turbulence in Italy, which investors worry is carrying too much debt and which was already looking at a marked slowdown for the second half of the year.

Mattarella had tapped Draghi to pull Italy out of the pandemic last year. But last week, the 5-Stars boycotted a confidence vote tied to a bill aimed at helping Italians endure the cost-of-living crisis, prompting Draghi to make his first offer to resign.

Mattarella rejected that offer and asked Draghi to return to Parliament to brief lawmakers on the situation.

He did that Wednesday in his appeal to party leaders to listen to the calls for unity from ordinary Italians.

“You don’t have to give the answer to me. You have to give it to all Italians,” he told lawmakers.

While the next steps were unclear, Mattarella appeared likely to dissolve Parliament after a period of consultati­ons, paving the way for an early election as soon as late September or early October. The legislatur­e’s five-year term had been due to expire in 2023.

Mattarella planned to meet with the presidents of both chambers of Parliament later Thursday, his office said. The announceme­nt cited the article in the Italian Constituti­on that says the president can dissolve Parliament.

Opinion polls have indicated that the center-left Democratic Party and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, which had remained in the opposition, are neck and neck.

Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta said Parliament had betrayed Italy, and he urged Italians to respond at the polls.

“Let Italians show at the ballot that they are smarter than their representa­tives,” he tweeted.

The Brothers of Italy has long been allied with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia and right-wing politician Matteo Salvini’s League, suggesting that a center-right alliance would likely prevail in any election and propel Brothers’ leader Giorgia Meloni to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Meloni, who has been gunning for an early election since before the crisis erupted, was triumphant.

“The will of the people is expressed in one way: by voting. Let’s give hope and strength back to Italy,” she said.

Some commentato­rs noted that Draghi’s government, which has been among Europe’s strongest supporters of Ukraine against Russia, collapsed in large part thanks to political leaders who previously had ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Berlusconi has vacationed with Putin and considered him a friend, Salvini opposed EU sanctions against Russia after its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte opposed Italian military aid to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion.

After 5-Star senators boycotted last week’s vote, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Conte of giving Putin a gift by “serving Draghi’s head on a silver platter.”

 ?? Andrew Medichini Associated Press ?? PRIME MINISTER Mario Draghi’s government imploded after members of his coalition rebuffed his appeal to reunite and finish Parliament’s natural term.
Andrew Medichini Associated Press PRIME MINISTER Mario Draghi’s government imploded after members of his coalition rebuffed his appeal to reunite and finish Parliament’s natural term.

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