Four scenarios: What happens next in Italy’s government crisis?

With Italy's government on shaky ground after Draghi's attempted resignation, what does this mean for the country, and what happens next?

Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi addressing the Senate on June 21st, 2022.
Italy's Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Italy was thrown into turmoil on Thursday after the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), which had been the largest party in parliament, abstained from participating in a crucial vote in the Italian senate.

M5S’s decision to boycott the vote on a €23 billion aid bill designed to offset the soaring cost of living for Italians was seen as a fatal blow to the integrity of the coalition government.

Draghi resigned on Thursday evening, saying the “pact of trust that the government is based on has gone”. He had been appointed as a technocratic prime minister in February 2021 after a previous government collapse.

Italy’s head of state President Sergio Mattarella refused to accept the prime minister’s resignation, however, and pressed Draghi to reconsider.

READ ALSO: LATEST: Italy’s president refuses to accept PM Draghi’s resignation

Draghi will now leave on a scheduled state visit to Algeria to negotiate a gas deal, but has agreed to return to parliament on Wednesday at Mattarella’s request to see whether a resolution can be reached.

What does this all mean for Italy? At this stage things could go any number of ways; we take a look at some possible scenarios put forward by Italian media and political and financial analysts.

A snap election

Italy was due hold a general election anyway in the first half of 2023; a snap election would bring this forward by several months.

M5S is expected to do poorly in a snap election, having haemorrhaged support since they were voted in as the largest party in 2018 – which is why some analysts have suggested M5S doesn’t actually want the government to collapse at all, but to shore up support from voters by proving its anti-establishment credentials.

READ ALSO: Anger and astonishment in Italy after PM Draghi’s resignation attempt

In favour of a snap election is the far-right Brothers of Italy party, which performed well in local elections in June. Salvini, leader of the hard-right populist League party, has also expressed support for the idea.

That’s unsurprising given that the most probable outcome from an early election is a right wing coalition government led by Brothers of Italy, League, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza d’Italia.

Draghi reaches an agreement with M5S and things go on as before

This seems an unlikely prospect as both Draghi and M5S leader Conte have insisted on their determination not to bend to the other’s will.

The M5S boycott came after Conte presented Draghi with a nine-point list of demands, including the introduction of an Italian a minimum wage, which the prime minister rejected. Conte has accused the government of bringing about the current crisis by using “force and blackmail”.

Draghi, for his part, has simply said he won’t give in to ultimatums issued by parties in his ‘unity’ government.

Even if Draghi and M5S were to reach an agreement, the government would be fragile, and there’s nothing to say there wouldn’t be another crisis in a few weeks’ time.

Draghi forms a new majority without M5S

In theory this is technically viable, and appears to be what Mattarella has in mind. Even without M5S, Draghi could still get the votes to form a majority in parliament.

It’s questionable whether this could actually work in the long run, however, with newspaper Corriere della Sera calling it “a possibility that hardly anyone believes in.” It would require the League to lend its support and risk alienating the Brothers of Italy, which wants an immediate election.

Draghi is reportedly possessed of the “intimate certainty” (his own words, according to Corriere) that if he does form a new government, he’ll be subjected to attacks of the same kind from other parties like the League in the following weeks and months, and the government will collapse all over again.

Draghi leaves and a new government is formed without him

In this scenario the favourite to become prime minister is Daniele Franco, the current finance minister who, like Draghi, has no party affiliation.

His would be another technocratic government made up mostly of the same ministers as those in the current cabinet, minus M5S leaders.

A Franco government would steer Italy through the passage of a budget law in the autumn and the possible enactment of an electoral law currently under review, and see the country through to a general election towards the start of next year. 

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Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.