Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has resigned, blaming the collapse of his government on his anti-migrant interior minister, who triggered a political crisis to try to force early elections.
Addressing the Senate, Mr Conte blasted Matteo Salvini for setting in motion a “dizzying spiral of political and financial instability” by essentially pulling the plug on the government.
Mr Salvini’s right-wing League party sought a no-confidence vote against Mr Conte earlier this month, a stunningly bold move for the government’s junior coalition partner.
Mr Mattarella, who is head of state, requested that Mr Conte and the rest of the government stay on in a caretaker role, while he works in the coming days to determine whether to call new elections.
Mr Mattarella will first see if another viable coalition can be cobbled together.
Mr Salvini, who sat next to Mr Conte during his speech, smirking at times, declared, “I’d do it all again”.
He repeatedly kissed a rosary he slipped out of his pocket right after Mr Conte rebuked him for associating “political slogans with religious symbols”.
Pressing for elections as soon as possible, Mr Salvini said: “I don’t fear Italians’ judgment.”
In the European Parliament election three months ago in Italy, as well as in current opinion polls, Mr Salvini’s League party has become the major political force among Italians.
His crackdown on migrants, whom the party’s voter base largely blames for crime, appears to be a huge factor in Mr Salvini’s climbing popularity.
Early elections would pull the plug on Parliament three years ahead of schedule, perhaps as soon as late October.
Should any early elections sweep Mr Salvini into power, financial markets could be rattled by his Euro-scepticism.
Depicting himself in counterpoint to Mr Salvini’s often derogatory depiction of European Union rules, Mr Conte said: “I tried in these 14 months to guide Italy’s policy along the path of a critical pro-Europe line, but always oriented constructively.”