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Italy’s Mario Draghi falls short in bid to salvage government as confidence vote falters


ROME — Italy’s government broke apart in rancor on Wednesday, as major parties sat out a confidence vote and delivered a stinging blow to Prime Minister Mario Draghi, leaving him with no option but to resign.

A day that began with Draghi making a case to stay on as prime minister ended instead with recriminations, deepened divisions, and a near-certainty of elections in the fall that will favor a group of parties from the center- and far right.

The events brought a crashing end to a period of relative political unity in Rome and destabilizes the European Union’s third-largest economy, where Draghi was widely seen as a guarantor. For the past 1½ years, the centrist Draghi had led a broad, left-to-right government, and he’d marshaled his reputation — built as Europe’s former top central banker — to increase Italy’s influence in Brussels and vouch forcefully for a hard European line against Russia in its ongoing war in Ukraine.

But political parties, one after the next on Wednesday, decided that Italy would be better off with something else.

“It’s over,” Draghi ally Matteo Renzi said on the Senate floor, as parties, chafed by a day of testy negotiations, announced they wouldn’t participate in the vote.

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What comes next for Italy could be much different. The next government is very likely to bring together a grouping of nationalist and center-right parties, including some that have held Euroskeptic and pro-Russian views. In recent days, some politicians loyal to Draghi had warned that Italy’s crisis was playing into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it’s unclear what sort of approach the parties would take in power. Giorgia Meloni, whose nationalist Brothers of Italy party is the country’s most popular and the lone opposition group, has vocally backed Ukraine against Russia.

“We must consider what [Draghi’s departure] would mean for the resistance to Putin,” Enrico Letta, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, said in a phone interview. “Draghi has been and is a point of reference for all European leaders.”

Most political experts had anticipated that Draghi — over the course of a make-or-break day — would be able to persuade parties to recommit to the coalition. When he had tried to resign last week, in response to a revolt over a bill by the Five Star Movement, he had been rebuffed by President Sergio Mattarella, who urged him to return to Parliament and test his coalition one more time.

But the effort failed. Though most pundits had expected that the parties would patch up their differences enough to muddle on, by midafternoon there were fractures everywhere: between Draghi and the right, between the right and the amorphous Five Star Movement, with the parties blaming one another for the breakdown. Those parties, in recent months, had been increasingly at odds. Italy, under any circumstance, was required to hold a national vote early next year — giving the parties incentive to differentiate themselves in the lead-up.

“The desire to move forward together has gradually faded,” Draghi said in a morning Senate address.

In that address, occasionally raising his voice, Draghi celebrated the government’s work in helping Italy through the acute parts of the pandemic emergency and, more recently, in scrambling to obtain alternative energy sources amid the Ukraine war. But he also issued a stern message, asking the coalition parties to recommit and end any attempts to subvert the government agenda. It was his attempt to avoid shepherding a messy coalition to the finish line.

“We need a new pact of trust — sincere and concrete,” Draghi said the morning. “Are you ready to rebuild this pact?”

But he didn’t go out of his way to entice the populist Five Star Movement by mentioning its pet projects. And he took a veiled dig at the nationalist League, whose leader, Matteo Salvini, has voiced support for striking taxi drivers, whose protests Draghi called “violent” and “unauthorized.”

It soon became clear that the odds of a deal were faltering.

By midafternoon, parties from the far right and the center right said in a joint note that they were okay with Draghi as leader — so long as the Five Star Movement wasn’t a part of the government. But Draghi had said he wanted to preside only over the widest possible coalition — including the Five Star Movement. Because he was unelected — handpicked by Mattarella to lead a unity government during a 2021 period of government crisis — he said he needed the widest possible backing to carry on.

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