Long Goodbye for Renzi With Italy Seeking Government Number 64

  • Premier tries to quit, but again, president asks him to stay
  • Mattarella to start talks on Thursday for new prime minister

What You Need to Know About Italy's Anti-EU Movement

For Matteo Renzi, it’s hard to say goodbye.

The Italian prime minister resubmitted his resignation in a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella, but the head of state yet again put off accepting it before formally starting the search on Thursday for Italy’s 64th government since World War II.

When Renzi, 41, met Mattarella late on Wednesday for the third time this week since losing a constitutional referendum, the premier said he was stepping down. The head of state responded by asking him to stay on as a caretaker premier to handle routine government business, according to a statement released by Mattarella’s office.

On Thursday at 6 p.m. Rome time, Mattarella will begin three days of consultations with party leaders and the speakers of both houses of parliament. The aim is to find out whether snap elections are inevitable. That leaves Renzi limping on until he can hand over power to a successor.

An unbowed Renzi mapped out his strategy to the senior members of his Democratic Party (PD) on Wednesday. As leader of the biggest party in parliament, he will have a key say on who should be the next premier, and what kind of government should be formed.

Not Scared

“We are scared of nothing and of no one, so if other political forces want early elections, let them say so,” said Renzi, who was met with applause, in his speech at the party headquarters in Rome.

After almost three years in power, Renzi outlined two options: either early elections in early 2017 after the Constitutional Court, one of Italy’s highest courts, reviews the electoral law on Jan. 24, or the formation of a grand coalition that would change that law. 

The next scheduled elections aren’t until early 2018.

“Renzi’s offer of a multi-party government won’t find many takers,” Giorgio Freddi, emeritus professor of political science at Bologna University, said in an interview. “No one wants to be forced to make some pretty unpleasant decisions which have to be taken.”

Those hard choices range from raising taxes to sorting out Italian banks and challenging the European Union on budget rules, he said. The problem for Mattarella is that big parties like the Five Star Movement and the Northern League will tell him they want elections now, while ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi will say we can wait until 2018, he added.

‘Real Mess’

“This is a real mess,” Freddi said. “Mattarella may even be forced at the end of it all to ask Renzi to stay on for quite some time, until early next year.”

Mainstream parties want to change the electoral law because it gives an automatic majority to the leading party in the lower house. They fear the winner could be Five Star, which is virtually tied with Renzi’s PD in opinion polls and wants a referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro area.

Renzi offered to fall on his sword mere hours after suffering a stinging defeat in the constitutional referendum. Mattarella asked him to hold off until the Senate gave final approval to the 2017 budget. He also wanted Renzi to reconsider to guarantee political and economic stability, according to a senior state official who asked not to be named because the issue is confidential.

Renzi Agonizing

Renzi spent much of the week agonizing over whether to step down or not, according to Italian newspapers who reported him considering a barrage of options including bowing out of politics altogether to take a year-long break in the U.S.

After the Senate approved the budget on Wednesday afternoon, Renzi, a constant online presence, took to Twitter to post: “Budget law approved. At 7 p.m. the formal resignation. Thanks to everyone. Long live Italy.” At his party leadership meeting, a jovial Renzi preserved a sense of humor.

“I hope that tomorrow morning, in the Playstation contest with my children, I’ll have more luck than I had in some other ones,” he quipped.

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