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Italians are used to hearing the words, “Once again, the government in Rome has collapsed.” Now another Italian leader is resigning, but this time, while still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic and deep economic turmoil, it risks plunging the country into political chaos.

On Tuesday, following weeks of political uncertainty and a split in the governing coalition over his handling of the second wave of COVID-19 and recovery funds from the European Union, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte handed over his resignation to the president.

But it could lead to early elections and further uncertainty if lawmakers fail to agree on forming a new government.

The timing could not be worse. Italy has recorded more than 86,000 deaths from COVID-19 — of over 2.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases — since it became the first Western country ravaged by the virus in March. That’s the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe after the United Kingdom. The country’s vaccination program is slowing, and the economy and unemployment are worsening.

Conte was a political neophyte — a law professor with no party affiliation — before taking office in 2018.

Conte stunned the world by ordering a harsh nationwide lockdown when the pandemic hit Italy. Despite Italy quickly becoming the coronavirus epicenter of Europe, the popularity of the leader soared.

As a caretaker, Conte will remain in office and President Sergio Mattarella will begin consulting with political leaders on the formation of a new government on Wednesday.

Analysts expect Conte to once again try to form a new coalition to lead.

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The parliamentary spectrum is divided: right-wing parties, currently in opposition, demand snap elections, two years ahead of schedule, confident that they will come to power. It is also because of recent reforms that have reduced the number of sitting legislators who could be re-elected that members of the outgoing coalition want to avoid elections.

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