ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Matteo Renzi resigned Wednesday evening, his self-inflicted penalty for staking his job on constitutional changes voters resoundingly rejected earlier in the week. He will stay in a caretaker's role at the request of Italy's president until a new government can be formed.
Renzi had first offered his resignation on Monday, shortly after voters rejected the constitutional reforms his center-left government had championed. President Sergio Mattarella, Italy's head of state, told him to stay in office until Parliament completed approval of the 2017 national budget.
A few hours after the budget was passed on Wednesday, Renzi returned to the Quirinal presidential palace. This time, Mattarella accepted the resignation of the man who in February 2014 became Italy's youngest premier at age 39.
A presidential palace official, Ugo Zampetti, told reporters that Mattarella would begin consultations Thursday with the heads of Parliament's two chambers, as well as with former President Giorgio Napolitano.
After hearing out minor parties on Friday, Mattarella on Saturday plans to take proposals from the major players, including the Democratic Party that Renzi leads and the populist 5-Star Movement, Parliament's No. 1 and No. 2 parties respectively.
It could be clear whom Mattarella might tap to be the next premier once those meetings are done. One strong possibility is a government that would rule until Parliament hashes out a new election law in a bid to bring political stability to Italy.
The talks are aimed at sounding out party leaders to determine the configuration of a new government that would have enough support in Parliament to win both the required confirmation vote and to lead the country until elections are next held.
Elections are scheduled for spring 2018, but Renzi's humiliating defeat in the referendum will likely hasten that date considerably, possibly bringing a vote in spring 2017. Opposition parties, including the anti-euro 5-Star Movement, are pressing for the elections to be held soon.
"We want to go to the ballot box soon," said Roberto Fico, a 5-Star lawmaker. But Fico, as have both other opposition leaders and leaders from Renzi's Democrats, also cited the need for Parliament to approve a new election law before the national contests are called.
Ultimately, it will be up to Mattarella to decide whether Parliament should be sent packing early.
"The ball's in President Sergio Mattarella's court," Renato Brunetta, a parliament whip for former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's opposition Forza Italia party, said. But "as far as we go, never, never would a second mandate to Renzi" be acceptable.
In a speech to a meeting of the Democratic Party leadership just before he resigned Wednesday, Renzi took responsibility for his political debacle. But, sounding a bullish note, and as if he would possibly seek office again in the future, he asserted that his party would be ready for the elections whenever they are held.
"We have no fear of anything or anybody, if the others want" elections soon, Renzi said.
Many Italian governments have collapsed far before the end of Parliament's five-year term. Italian lawmakers have struggled for decades to devise an electoral system that would make the country more governable.
A new law, one giving the winner a big bonus in the lower Chamber of Deputies, was passed during Renzi's tenure. But no new law was made for the upper house, the Senate, while the constitutional reforms voters ultimately rejected in a referendum Sunday were on the table.
One of the proposed reforms would have stripped the Senate of most of its powers and make it no longer directly elected. Instead, Italian voters pulled the plug on the reforms, and now political leaders agree the electoral rules as they now stand are unworkable.
Infighting and party maneuverings have dogged the Democratic Party for the last few years. One of the moves that antagonized many in the party was Renzi's bold maneuver to trigger the downfall of his predecessor as premier, Enrico Letta.
The last elected Italian premier was Berlusconi, the media mogul who started his third term in 2008.
When Italy's financial instability forced Berlusconi to resign in 2011, economist Mario Monti was appointed. After a year, Monti's so-called technocrat government collapsed. Letta and then Renzi were appointed.
Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio