ROME — Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy offered to resign again on Thursday, a day after a last-ditch effort to persuade the country’s fractious parties to stick together for the benefit of the nation failed spectacularly, with nationalist and populist forces reuniting to fatally torpedo his national unity government.
Mr. Draghi had “tendered his resignation again” — for the second time in a little over a week — a statement from the office of President Sergio Mattarella said, adding that Mr. Mattarella “took note” of the decision and that, in the meantime, “the government remains in charge of regular business.”
Mr. Mattarella had rejected Mr. Draghi’s resignation last week in the hopes that Mr. Draghi could yet persuade Italy’s bickering parties to hang together. Mr. Draghi gave it a shot on Wednesday, when he made his case to Parliament, arguing that “the only way forward, if we want to stay together, is to rebuild from the top this pact, with courage, altruism and credibility.”
But with elections looming, Italy’s parties decided not to go forward, but to explode what was widely considered one of the most stable, effective and influential Italian governments in many years to try to gain political advantage and take power for themselves.
The effective collapse of Mr. Draghi’s government amounted to a devastating blow to both Italy and Europe. Already on Thursday, financial markets were reacting negatively to the imminent departure of Mr. Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank who helped save the euro, and who, by the force of his credibility, had increased investor confidence in his debt-laden country.
If Mr. Draghi showed a rare flash of ire on Wednesday, as it became clear that the unity he called for was not coming, he struck a more conciliatory tone as he spoke in the lower house of Parliament on Thursday morning.
“First of all, thank you,” Mr. Draghi said to an extended standing ovation, though not from the League and Five Star Movement parties, which refused to cast a ballot for him in Wednesday’s confidence vote and essentially pulled the plug on his government.
As the applause faded, he joked that sometimes even a banker’s heart beat, and then he read a short note saying that “in light of yesterday’s vote” in the Senate, he would suspend the proceedings until his meeting with Mr. Mattarella. He then went to the president’s official residence at the Quirinal Palace and resigned. Mr. Mattarella, who is imbued with extraordinary powers during a government crisis, is expected to speak later in the day to provide some clarity about his vision for the weeks and months ahead, including whether he will call for early elections and whether Mr. Draghi will leave or stay on in the interim.
Mr. Draghi’s statesmanlike stature had ushered in a brief golden period for Italy after he took over as caretaker prime minister in 2021, and in his speech on Wednesday, he said that the broad unity coalition had allowed Italy to get out of the worst phase of the pandemic, funnel financial assistance quickly to those who needed it and cut “useless bureaucracy.”
He also listed key overhauls in a variety of sectors, including increased energy independence from Russia, which he called “essential for the modernization of Italy,” and noted that Rome had already received 45.9 billion euros (about $47 billion) from the European Commission in recovery funds, with €21 billion more on the way.
Under Mr. Draghi, Italy assumed a much greater footprint in Europe. He persuaded the country, historically close and economically tied to Russia, to take a strong position backing Ukraine with arms, to stake out a leading role in recognizing Kyiv’s application for membership to the European Union and to condemn Russian aggression and punish Moscow with sanctions.
Many supporters of Mr. Draghi had argued that this injection of stability and competence into Italy’s politics, and the moderation required to work together in a national unity government, had essentially inoculated the country from its populist fever.
Instead, Italy was headed for elections in which the most popular politician, Giorgia Meloni, leads a party with neo-fascist roots that has skyrocketed in popularity to 22 percent in the polls, from less than 5 percent in the last election in 2018.
Unlike Ms. Meloni, who launched campaign bombs from the opposition, her nominal ally, Matteo Salvini of the League party, had entered the national unity government, in part to satisfy his pro-business base in the country’s north, which liked Mr. Draghi.
But on Wednesday, with elections approaching, Mr. Salvini’s patience wore out and he prompted the collapse of Mr. Draghi’s government, apparently eager to get back on campaign footing, win back the popularity that Ms. Meloni has taken from him and show that he should be the country’s next prime minister.
Whoever comes out on top, Mr. Salvini and Ms. Meloni have formed an alliance, along with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, that is heavily favored to prevail in the elections, which could come as early as the end of September or the beginning of October.
While political experts here say Ms. Meloni has sought to soften her image and seem more amenable to more moderate voters ahead of the elections, including positioning herself in the European mainstream as an ardent supporter of Ukraine and a tough critic of Russia’s aggression. But Mr. Salvini and Mr. Berlusconi both have long records of admiring and even venerating Mr. Putin, injecting a familiar dose of uncertainty into Italy’s foreign policy.
On Thursday afternoon, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine wrote on Twitter that he was “sincerely grateful” to Mr. Draghi for “unwavering support” of Ukraine against Russian aggression. He added “I’m convinced” that Italy’s active support of Ukraine “will continue!”