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Prodi government fails due to divisions
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Italy's 20-month-old center-left government led by Premier Romano Prodi quit on Thursday night after a Senate confidence vote defeat which was largely due to the defection of a small centrist party and divisions within the shaky governing coalition.

Prodi's administration, which has had a wafer-thin majority in the 315-seat upper house ever since it came to power, lost in the crucial test.

The government called confidence votes in the Lower House and Senate after the small Udeur party withdrew its support following last week's resignation of its leader, Justice Minister Clemente Mastella.

Mastella's quitting followed news that his wife was being placed under house arrest for allegedly trying to dictate certain hospital appointments in their native Campania region.

It turned out later that he too was under investigation in the same probe into an alleged web of corruption centered on the Udeur party.

Even before the withdrawal of the Udeur party, opinion polls had shown that popularity of the center-left coalition sharply slipped over the last year. The coalition has long been divided on a wide range of domestic and foreign policies.

In order to maintain and consolidate the transatlantic ties, the government decided to keep the scale of military presence in Afghanistan and expand the US military base in Vincenza, Italy.

However, such moves were opposed by some parties in the coalition such as the Greens and the Communists which advocated the pullback of Italy's 1,900 troops from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, many campaign promises of Premier Prodi, a 68-year-old former economics professor and ex-chief of the European Union Commission, remained unfulfilled.

He had pledged to reform Italy's costly pension system and boost growth by liberalizing many areas of Italy's economy, from insurance and banking services to taxis and pharmacies.

But the reforms were often hindered after street protests or under pressure from the radical left in the coalition. Italy's economy has remained sluggish compared with many other European nations.

After Prodi's resignation, a new government led by a respected figure or a technocrat could emerge to steer Italy's economy and work out new rules for the electoral system, analysts said.

While that prospect is favored by Prodi's Democratic Party, many small parties on both sides of the political divide fear that the possible electoral reforms would reduce their weight in future coalitions.

The conservative opposition led by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, however, is urging for dissolving the Parliament more than three years ahead of its full term and call for elections in spring.

"We need to go to the polls in the shortest time possible without delay," Berlusconi said after the Senate vote.

Analysts here played down the impact of the government resignation on Italy's economic growth, saying Prodi had been too busy surviving politically to implement social and economic reforms.

They also voiced the expectation that future electoral reforms could bring about more political stability, after the departure of Prodi's administration, which was Italy's 61st government after World War II.

(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2008)

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