Prodi Steps Down as Italian Prime Minister
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Italian politics has been thrown into turmoil with the government's unexpected defeat yesterday over a foreign policy motion in the parliament. After only nine months in office, Prime Minister Romano Prodi handed in his resignation.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has this report from Rome, unraveling what happened.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: President Giorgio Napolitano starts a round of consultations today with all political leaders to determine what to do. He could tap Prodi again to try to form another government, or choose another candidate. Or he could encourage the creation of a grand coalition embracing both the left and the right. The least popular option is dissolving parliament and holding early elections.
Italian newspapers were filled today with postmortems of the fragile Prodi government, an uneasy nine-party coalition ranging from centrist and Catholics to Communists. And TV news programs rebroadcast the raucous scenes in the Senate that brought about its demise.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
(Soundbite of cheering)
POGGIOLI: The government's motion got often 158 votes, two short of the necessary majority. Opposition leaders rose up in joy and demanded the government's resignation.
Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language)
POGGIOLI: Renato Schifani, a leader of the biggest opposition party, Forza Italia, declared the Prodi government dead.
Senator RENATO SCHIFANI (Leader, Forza Italia Party): (Speaking Foreign Language)
POGGIOLI: He said, there is no longer a Prodi government. It collapsed in this chamber, as we promised would happen months ago.
The vote was on a broadly worded declaration of support for Italy's effort to steer an independent foreign policy, reflecting widespread European diffidence toward the Bush administration but without severing Italy's longstanding ties to the United States. Ahead of the vote, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema had tried to reassure radical leftists of the government's independent course.
Mr. MASSIMO D'ALEMA (Italian Foreign Minister): (Through translator) We have not supported the neo-conservative politics of the American administration. And we have not sent soldiers to Iraq in the same way most European countries have not sent soldiers to Iraq.
POGGIOLI: Tensions within the coalition parties had been high for days, ever since some leaders of radical leftist parties had participated in a large demonstration in the northern city of Vicenza to oppose plans to expand a U.S. military base there. The Prodi government's approval of the expansion had angered local residents and mobilized pacifists and anti-global activists from all over Italy.
Foreign Minister D'Alema defended the move.
Mr. D'ALEMA: (Speaking foreign language)
POGGIOLI: He said, removing our approval would be a hostile act toward the United States, and it would be counterproductive.
The government was brought down by two radical leftist members of the coalition who stuck to their anti-war positions and abstained. The rebellion was unexpected and a shock for all members of the coalition parties.
Manuela Palermi(ph) is a senator of the extreme left party of Italian Communists.
Senator MANUELA PALERMI (Member, Italian Communist Party): (Through translator) They are irresponsible people in the Italian parliament. What are they trying to do, hand the government back to the right? I am furious.
POGGIOLI: Former Chief of State Francesco Cossiga explained why he voted against the government for the first time.
Senator FRANCESCO COSSIGA (Former President of Italian Republic): (Through Translator) I cannot possibly vote for a policy that promotes confrontation with America, Europe as an alternative to the United States, and which is antagonistic to Israel.
POGGIOLI: Many analysts agree that the difficult legacy left by the precious prime minister, center right leader Silvio Berlusconi, made it harder for Prodi to reign in his disparate coalition. Berlusconi's foreign policy had faithfully mirrored the goals of the Bush administration. His economic policy left Italy with a public debt well over 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product and is one of the slowest growing countries in the European Union.
In only nine months, Prodi had succeeded in bringing down the deficit to required E.U. parameters and to stimulate economic growth. But again, many of these cost-slashing measures had antagonized radical leftists. Some Catholic members of the coalition were also breaking ranks. They were under intense pressure from the Vatican, which is strongly opposed to Prodi's proposal to allow legal recognition on unmarried couples, including gay unions.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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