Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini surprised everyone by becoming the 41st prime minister since World War II to resign his coalition government.
Even the Socialists, whose leader Bettino Craxi has been spoiling to move into the premiership, were not expecting a government crisis now. Nonetheless, Mr. Craxi, who had jumped on a number of trivial issues in the past year in an effort to bring down the government and precipitate early elections, immediately seized the opportunity to upset Spadolini's five-party coalition.
Spadolini, a member of the tiny Republican Party, had managed to steer the two major partners in the coalition, the Socialists and Christian Democrats, through almost a feud a month for the past 405 days. But less than a month after winning a resounding vote of confidence over his plan for an economic program to curb the public spending deficit of $50 billion this year, Spadolini found that not all his ministers were behind him after all.
The austerity program included a bill aimed at tightening tax collections on oil interests. The bill was sponsored by Socialist Minister of Finance Salvatore Formica. It was sabotaged by 30 Christian Democrats who voted against it in the secret ballot. The Socialists immediately seized the pretext to precipitate a crisis. ''Snipers,'' charged Mr. Craxi. ''The country is literally ungovernable under these conditions.''
President Sandro Pertini accepted Mr. Spadolini's resignation but promptly asked him to head a caretaker government. This week Mr. Pertini will meet with the leaders of all of Italy's political parties in an effort to compose another noncommunist coalition. Although a Socialist, Pertini does not favor the early elections Craxi is pushing for. Recent polls show that if the elections were held now, the Socialists could expect to pick up 3 percent more of the electorate.