Italian government nears collapse after key Prodi ally defects
Prime Minister Romano Prodi may resign in the wake of a defection by a key parliamentary ally.
Italy faces a political crisis after an ally unexpectedly resigned from the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Romano Prodi, leaving his coalition without a parliamentary majority. Prodi is expected to address the Italian parliament Tuesday, and may resign if he loses a confidence vote, paving the way for new elections.Skip to next paragraph
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Prodi took office after defeating Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch ally of the Bush administration and Italy's richest man, in a close election in April 2006. His coalition's razor-thin majority in the Senate has since been tested by scandals and policy setbacks. Mr. Berlusconi, who leads the center-right opposition and is currently ahead in opinion polls, has called for early elections if the government falls.
The Wall Street Journal says that the crisis follows the resignation last week of Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, who is being investigated, along with his wife, in a corruption case. Mr. Mastella, who leads a minor political party, said Monday that he was abruptly withdrawing support for Prodi's coalition because he wasn't getting enough political backing in fighting that corruption case.
While it is still possible Mr. Prodi could eke out a majority by courting new votes, it seems more likely he will have to hand in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano. A collapse would raise the question of whether this government's most important success – taming Italy's runaway deficit – will melt away in the political pandemonium that could ensue.
Hours before the political crisis broke, Agence France-Presse reported that Prodi had planned to meet President Bush during a scheduled Feb. 3 visit to the United States, his first since taking office. The two leaders held talks last year in Rome after Italy agreed to increase its troop commitment in Afghanistan.
Relations between the two countries had been frayed by Italy's pullout from Iraq and the fallout from Italian judicial probes involving US military personnel, reports AFP. One case involved the death of an Italian intelligence agent in Baghdad in 2005 after he rescued a kidnapped Italian reporter. Their car was allegedly fired on by a US soldier at a mobile checkpoint. A Rome court ruled last October, however, that it didn't have jurisdiction to try the accused US soldier.
In recent months, Prodi has steadily lost popular support in Italy despite delivering economic growth and cutting unemployment, Bloomberg reports. Divisions within his government, Italy's 61st since 1945, have sapped his poll ratings. A Dec. 23 survey found that 30 percent of Italians had confidence in him, down from 45 percent a year earlier.