Prodi to try reassembling center-left government

February 25, 2007|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,Los Angeles Times

Rome -- Romano Prodi, forced to resign last week as Italy's prime minister, will try to reassemble his government in a bid to rescue the nation from crippling political chaos, officials announced yesterday.

Ending intense negotiations, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano asked Prodi to put together a new administration that then must prove it has majority support by winning confidence votes in both houses of parliament.

Napolitano, who spent the three days since Prodi's surprise resignation consulting with a wide range of politicians, said he believes Prodi has sufficient backing from centrist and leftist parties to prevail.

"There was no concrete alternative," Napolitano told reporters at the Quirinale presidential palace in explaining his decision. Holding fresh elections would be too disruptive and counterproductive, he added.

Speaking a few minutes later at the same venue, Prodi said: "I will present myself to Parliament as soon as possible, with the renewed impetus of a cohesive coalition determined to help the country at this difficult stage."

Prodi's center-right opponents, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, quickly rejected Napolitano's decision and vowed to fight the return of Prodi.

Prodi, the 67-year-old former professor, stunned the nation Wednesday when he quit after losing a parliamentary vote called to endorse his foreign policy. His nine-month-old government collapsed, falling victim largely to leftist allies who opposed Italy's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan and the expansion of U.S. military bases in Italy.

Prodi now will have to command the loyalty of those mutinous leftists and muster new support from centrists who have been lukewarm to his government.

Analysts said they expected Prodi, who won elections last year by one of the narrowest margins in modern Italian history, could cobble together a Cabinet and win the confidence votes. But his longer-term prospects for survival were bleak because the country and its political establishment remained so profoundly divided, and a contentious electoral law that dilutes a ruling coalition's power virtually guarantees instability.

"If everyone behaves, Prodi should have a majority - for now. Then we wait until the next crisis," said Franco Pavoncello, a political analyst and president of Rome's John Cabot University.

Opposition leaders said returning Prodi to office would only prolong the "agony" of the nation.

"A government based on the treachery and the horse-trading of men is dead before it is born," Luigi Vitali, a legislator from Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, told reporters yesterday.

Prodi has received an important boost from a former Berlusconi ally, centrist Sen. Marco Follini, who told a leading Italian newspaper that he probably will cross the aisle in support of Prodi. He said he was tired of seeing a government held hostage by minority interests and wanted to help push the agenda toward the center.

Even among those Prodi allies whose votes or abstentions helped bring him down, there was surprise that his government collapsed so quickly. Most were more interested in making points than forcing political upheaval. Anger on the left was especially acute; one of the Communist senators who abstained was thrown out of his party and another was accosted by a man on a train who punched him in the nose.

Tracy Wilkinson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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