Friday, January 25, 2008

Italy in Chaos

After a series of perceived death blows from Italy's ecclesiastical establishment, crisis talks begin in Rome today following yesterday's fall of Romano Prodi's center-left coalition government:
Right-wing newspapers gloated over the demise of 68-year-old Prodi, the arch-rival of conservative flagbearer Silvio Berlusconi, both of them now former prime ministers twice over.

"The dream has come true," headlined Il Libero over a cartoon showing Prodi hanged by the Senate, where the prime minister lost a vote of confidence on Thursday, precipitating his resignation.

Prodi "leaves the country in tatters," the paper wrote.

The left-leaning press was more sympathetic, Ezio Mauro writing in the daily La Repubblica that the former economic professor's exit was a "strange and unjust destiny for a politician who has twice defeated Berlusconi (and) twice cleaned up the public accounts."

Berlusconi, now 71, and right-wing National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini immediately called for fresh elections on news of the resignation.

The flamboyant Berlusconi, Italy's richest man, clearly wants to take advantage of the left's steep drop in popularity as Prodi, struggling to keep his squabbling coalition together, was unable to address many pocketbook issues.

But observers say [Italian President Giorgio] Napolitano will resist calls for fresh polls.

"Both left and right know that this system creates instability," political scientist Franco Pavoncello told AFP.

He said he "wouldn't be surprised" if Napolitano, a former communist, asked Mario Monti, a former EU commissioner for competition, or Bank of Italy chief Mario Draghi to head an interim team of technocrats.

Prodi, crippled by the defection early this week of the centrist Catholic UDEUR party, had decided to go ahead with the Senate vote despite appeals from top leaders, including Napolitano, to resign instead.

Despite a last-minute change of heart by one of UDEUR's three senators and the support of five of Italy's unelected senators for life including Nobel medicine laureate 98-year-old Rita Levi-Montalcini, Prodi fell five votes short in the upper house.
Though relatively brief by normal standards, Prodi's 20-month-long occupancy of Palazzo Chigi falls well above average; Italians have seen the rise and fall of 61 governments in the postwar period.

PHOTO: Reuters/Tony Gentile