Italy: Embattled Prodi government faces survival test

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Romano Prodi, Prime Minister of Italy, has called a vote of confidence in Parliament after the departure of a junior government partner left his centre-left coalition without a clear majority in the Senate.

Prodi made the announcement yesterday (Tuesday) and is expected to win backing from the lower house of Parliament in a vote to be held today. But the decisive test will come in a Senate vote on Thursday, where Prodi’s slim majority was until now secured by three deputies of the departing centrist UDEUR party.

The crisis was sparked last week when justice minister Clemente Mastella resigned and announced on Monday that his small Christian Democrat UDEUR party would oppose Prodi in a vote of confidence. Matsella handed in his resignation after he and his wife, who chairs the southern Campania region, were placed under investigation in a corruption probe.

Silvio Berlusconi, opposition leader and former prime minister, has called for early elections, telling news agency Ansa that “there needs to be a return to the ballot box this spring.”

Latest polls suggest Prodi’s popularity has been falling, with approval ratings dropping from about 41% in January 2007 to 25% in December, according to an opinion poll by the Corriere della Sera  newspaper.

What happens next now partly depends on Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano. If Prodi does not win either of the two votes, he essentially has two options: to call early elections or name a caretaker government.

Prodi’s centre-left coalition was already put to the test in February last year after a quarrel broke out with communist coalition partners over Italy’s military engagement in Afghanistan. Resigning Justice Minister Mastella was at the time a key ally in securing Prodi a majority in the Senate (EURACTIV 1/03/07).

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