Rome: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte submitted his resignation on Tuesday to President Sergio Mattarella, in a bid to form a new, stronger government. Earlier in the day, Conte had met with his cabinet before heading to the presidential palace to offer his resignation after a key coalition ally pulled his party's support over Conte's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The president accepted the resignation and "reserves the right to decide (what to do next) and invited the government to stay in office in a caretaker capacity", Mattarella's office said.
Mattarella, the ultimate arbiter of Italian political crises, said he would start a round of discussions with party leaders on the way forward on Wednesday afternoon. Talks are expected to last until Thursday.
Conte is expected to seek a new mandate for what would be his third consecutive government in three years, but this depends on his ability to expand his parliamentary majority.
Conte is hoping to get President Sergio Mattarella's support for forming a new coalition government that can steer the country through the pandemic, economic recession and a spending plan for 209 billion euros in European Union recovery funds.
He can currently count on the populist Five Star Movement, the centre-left Democratic Party and the smaller leftist Free and Equals party.
Ex-premier Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva, which pulled out of the coalition two weeks ago, as well as opposition centrists, are under pressure to switch sides and support a new government -- but not necessarily with Conte at the helm.
Conte's government was thrown into turmoil earlier this month when a junior coalition 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, forcing him to take the gamble of resignation.
Conte's first government starting in 2018 was a 5-Star alliance with the right-wing League of Matteo Salvini that lasted 15 months. His second, with the Democrats, lasted 16 months.
Salvini and center-right opposition parties are clamoring for early elections, hoping to capitalize on polls prior to the government crisis that showed high approval ratings for the League and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party of Giorgia Meloni.
Salvini has blasted the "palace games and buying and selling of senators" of recent days as Conte has tried to find new coalition allies, saying Conte is incapable of leading Italy through the crisis.
"Let's use these weeks to give the word back to the people and we'll have five years of a serious and legitimate parliament and government not chosen in palaces but chosen by Italians," Salvini said in a video statement Monday. Democratic leader Nicola Zingaretti says early elections are the last thing the country needs. He tweeted Monday: "With Conte for a new clearly European-centric government supported by an ample parliamentary base, that will guarantee credibility and stability to confront the challenges Italy has ahead."
(With inputs from agencies)