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Italy in suspense as Prodi's chances slip away

Latest update : 2008-01-23

Despite surviving a first confidence vote in Italy's lower chamber, PM Romano Prodi is reportedly considering resigning ahead of Thursday's vote in the Senate, where the odds are now heavily against him.

ROME, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Italy's centre-left government
struggled to stay afloat on Wednesday and even the president
appeared to doubt that Prime Minister Romano Prodi, weakened by
defections, could survive a confidence vote in the Senate.
 
Ordinary Italians, who have seen 61 governments since the
end of World War Two, seemed jaded by the prospect of more
turmoil which will further delay economic reforms, at a time
when Italy risks being dragged into a global slowdown.
 
"I just can't see this is anything new," said Rome pensioner
Luigi Marini as he read the newspapers. "I am of a certain age
and these crises happen when governments are unstable. I don't
think we need to dramatise events."
 
The business daily Il Sole 24 Ore lamented the "abysmal
distance separating the Italian political world from the
economic reality in the rest of the country".
 
Fears of a government collapse were reflected on financial
markets, where the spread between Italian government bonds and
German bunds widened to levels not seen for 6-1/2 years.
 
As a confidence motion was debated in the lower house where
Prodi has a clear majority, a government source said President
Giorgio Napolitano had advised Prodi to "review" the wisdom of
facing the Senate, where he has lost his majority, on Thursday.
 
Prodi lost three Senate seats with the defection of former
justice minister Clemente Mastella's Catholic Udeur this week
and his chances of survival were further reduced by two centrist
Liberal Democrat senators abandoning him on Wednesday.
 

 
TACTICAL
 
Prodi can be confident of winning the confidence of the
lower house on Wednesday, but in the Senate vote, set for 1900
GMT on Thursday, he is really up against the ropes. If he loses
either vote he will have to resign.
 
The 68-year-old prime minister fuelled speculation he might
resign before the Senate vote, a reminder of his tactical
resignation last February to scare his allies into line. On that
occasion, Napolitano reinstated him.
 
"I am sure there are a lot of contacts now taking place,
trying to get somebody to change their mind and give their
support," Franco Pavoncello, politics professor at John Cabot
University in Rome, told Reuters television.
 
If Prodi does lose, one scenario is the appointment of an
interim government to overhaul the messy and unpopular electoral
system before a new election is held.
 
Conservative former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, beaten
by Prodi in 2006 elections, hopes a Senate defeat for Prodi
would trigger snap elections under the current rules, which
polls suggest his centre-right would win by a clear margin.
 
"In some sectors of the coalition there is a palpable desire
to get rid of the 'Professore' (Prodi). The problem is that it
is difficult to shelve Prodi without triggering a new Berlusconi
era," wrote Corriere della Sera's columnist Massimo Franco.
 
Prodi's fate hangs on whether he can muster enough support
in the Senate to compensate for the defections and for two
coalition dissidents who have said they will vote 'no'.
 
Without his two-seat Senate majority, he relies entirely on
seven unelected lifetime senators to survive. Some calculations
show the best he can hope for is to win by one vote.
 
"I will be there and I will vote my confidence in Prodi,"
said former president Oscar Scalfaro, a lifetime senator.
 
Giulio Andreotti, an ex-prime minister and another honorary
senator with full voting rights, said he saw "no alternative at
the moment to this government, so I will vote for Prodi".
 
But Roberto Maroni, a deputy from the right-wing Northern
League, said it would be a "minority dictatorship" if Prodi
clung to power on the votes of unelected elder statesmen.
 

Date created : 2008-01-23

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