Prodi resignation throws Italy into crisis

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Italian prime minister and former Commission president Romano Prodi has resigned after losing a vote of confidence in the Senate. Opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi has called for new elections.

The crucial vote in Italy’s upper chamber on 24 January 2008 brought an end to the turbulent 20-month reign of the centre-left government. Prodi failed to win the necessary majority, with 156 senators voting in favour and 161 against, and in consequence handed in his resignation to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

The vote was accompanied by chaos in the chamber and an exchange of verbal slander when an opposition senator announced he was to vote in favour of the government.

Prodi had called confidence votes in the Parliament and Senate after the small Christian Democrat UDEUR party withdrew its support following Justice Minister Clemente Mastella’s resignation last week (EURACTIV 23/12/08).

President Napolitano is now to decide whether to appoint an interim government to reform the electoral system or call snap elections. He will consult with party and parliamentary leaders today (25 January) to sound out the grounds for an interim government.

Meanwhile, Conservative opposition leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who currently heads opinion polls, has called for new elections. “Now we must go to vote. We will say what we want to do in the first 100 days of our government,” Berlusconi said.

Joseph Daul, Chairman of the centre-right EPP-ED group in the European Parliament, said it was “the time for change, the time for an alternative” in Italy. He did not however throw his support explicitly behind Berlusconi, who had tumultuous relations with the EU during his time as prime minister, creating an uproar in Parliament when he referred to socialist leader Martin Schultz as a Nazi “Kapo” in 2003.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the Party of European Socialists (PES), said there was “no point holding elections to bring in yet another unstable Government”. “Only after electoral reform can the Italian people elect a stable government, as proposed by the new Partito Democratico led by Walter Veltroni, which represents a fresh solution for governing Italy.” 

The latest polls had suggested Prodi’s popularity had been falling, with approval ratings dropping from about 41% in January 2007 to 25% in December, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Analysts say that electoral reform is necessary to allow the formation of a more stable government in the future. Prodi’s 20-month reign had already become the seventh-longest term served by a post-war Italian government.

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