Conte has tendered his resignation and launched a blistering attack on Salvini. The far-right League withdrew its no confidence motion against the prime minister after being taken to task by nearly every other party.
Much of Rome held its breath on Tuesday, eyes glued to TVs through the end of the work day, one thing dominating cafe chatter — the end to Italy’s 65th government since World War II.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced he would submit his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, ending Italy's 14-month-old populist government.
"The current crisis definitely compromises the experience of this government, which stops here," Conte said.
In his speech before the Senate, Conte took aim at his Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, calling him "irresponsible" for engineering a political crisis for "personal and party interests."
Salvini, emboldened by his party’s strong showing in May’s EU elections, has increasingly positioned himself as Italy’s main leader on the world stage.
Two weeks ago, he made the surprise announcement that his far-right League no longer wanted to remain in an alliance with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), presenting a no-confidence vote against Conte and pushing for fresh elections.
Show of support
Braving the punishing August sun in Rome, around 100 M5S supporters camped out in front of the Senate building for hours, chanting "Conte! Conte!" Although the prime minister is technically partyless, he is an M5S man in spirit and many did not want him to resign.
Some were hoping for a new coalition with the center-left Democratic Party (PD). The M5S can be loosely defined as left-leaning, but it has often struggled to define exactly what it stands for, and leader Luigi di Maio has also come out against immigration like Salvini.
The PD is still headed by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has been eyeing a chance for a comeback. A new coalition could save Italy from facing snap elections as early as October.
"Now is our moment, we should form an alliance with the PD and cut Salvini out of the picture," Stefano, one of the demonstrators, told DW.
But Marco, who works at a bar around the corner from where the protestors were cheering, was less optimistic, saying "it’s wishful thinking…Italian democracy is like this… We’re trapped inside a wheel, no matter how much progress we think we’ve made, we end up right where we started."
This sentiment was echoed by many following Tuesday’s developments. Italy appears to be trapped in a vicious circle in which people expect to be disappointed by their governments, and watch them play right into these expectations. This prompts one more government to collapse and a new one to be elected, and the cycle begins again.
‘Should have stood up to him a long time ago’
Pessimistic PD voter Silvia, 33, said that she was disappointed by what she saw as other parties only standing up to Salvini after he called for a no confidence vote.
"The other parties should have stood up to Salvini a long time ago," she said.
"However, I feel more like they were motivated by his arrogance, rather than because of principles, or his racist speeches."
Polls on Italian news websites have Salvini’s support at 36% to M5S's 18, but it’s not very evident in urban Rome. There was no similar gathering of party loyalists in the center of the Italian capital on Tuesday.
League withdraws no-confidence motion
After Conte's speech, and similar ones by several other prominent lawmakers, the League suddenly revoked its no-confidence motion. Many Italian social media users promptly mocked Salvini for his failed attempt to come out of the crisis looking like the only strong leader in Italy.
Protestors who were not affiliated with M5S, but still vehemently anti-Salvini, were overjoyed to see the interior minister with egg on his face at the end of the day.
"Refugees are dying, and what does he do? He disappears migrants and closes the official refugee camps, forces children and pregnant women to stay on boats off Lampedusa," said middle-aged Mauro, part of a group that claims to have been protesting Salvini nearly every day since he joined the government in June of last year.
"He wants to bring fascism back to Italy, well, hopefully he’ll have his work cut out."