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Government Prodi wins vote of confidence
Article added on March 2, 2007
  
The Italian government of Romano Prodi has won the votes of confidence both in the House and in the Senate.

After Romano Prodi's nine-party, center-left coalition won the 2006 General Election by a tiny margin, speculation started immediately about how long this heteroclite coalition would hold.

The end came quicker than some expected, on February 21, 2007 after only 281 days. Some Communists, other representatives of the far-left and a few
Senators for Life refused to support the Italian government's foreign and security policy and/or abstained from voting.

In Afghanistan, Italian troops are part of the NATO forces. Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema explained in the Parliament why this mission was crucial for Italy. Furthermore, the Prodi government decided to permit the expansion of a U.S. military base in Vicenza, a city in northern Italy.

After the electoral success in 2006, the coalition government under Prime Minister Romano Prodi had decided to continue its presence in Afghanistan. In September 2006, according to Italian newspapers only after half an hour of discussions, the Cabinet took the courageous decision to send Italian troops to Lebanon, re-establishing Italy's credibility in Foreign Policy by demonstrating that the Left was ready to take international responsibilities, if it was within the framework of a UN-mandate.

For some within the heteroclite coalition, this already went too far. Two senators of the Center-Left decided not to follow their government regarding Afghanistan and Vicenza.
Senator Rossi (Pdci - Verdi), a left-wing dissident from the ruling coalition abstained from voting. Senator Turigliatto (Sinistra Critica - Prc) also did not take part in the voting, announcing that he would step down. Prior to the vote, some Communists and Greens had openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the government's Afghanistan policy and the intention to expand the military base in Vicenza. The Center-Left was unable to discipline its members and, therefore, the vote risked ending in a disaster.

With 319 senators present, the Government Prodi needed 160 votes in its favor, but it only got the support from 158 senators. 136 voted against it. 24 abstained from voting which, in the Senate, are counted as negative votes.

In the Lower Chamber, where the government has the support of a clear majority, the dissidence of a few members of the majority would not have mattered. In the Senate however, the Center-Left coalition depends on the support of some of the seven Senators for Life.

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Among the seven Senators for Life”, only the former President Cossiga, as a “decades-long friend of the U.S.”, voted against the government. He stated correctly that, according to the Italian constitution, the cabinet would not be forced to step down by a negative vote. Only the loss of a vote of confidence could provoke such a major crisis. In contrast, Foreign Minister d'Alema stressed that without a majority, there was no longer a functioning government.

Because the “
Senators for Life” Andreotti (who did not get the desired post of President in 2006) and Pininfarina abstained from voting, and no votes are counted negatively in the Senate, the Government lost the crucial vote. Italy's President, Giorgio Napolitano, requested a vote of confidence to re-establish the credibility in the Government's support.

Although Italy is notorious for its crisis' of government, early elections are much less frequent. The Italian members of Parliament enjoy incredible privileges, even compared to France and Germany. But only after 30 months in office, they are entitled to a pension for life. Therefore and in order to prevent a new government led by Silvio Berlusconi, there were great chances that the current crisis would not end in a no-confidence vote.

On February 28, 2007 the vote of confidence in the Senate offered some excitement because before the vote, at around 18.30,
 the “Senator for Life” Andreotti announced that he would not vote. Previously, Silvio Berlusconi's former ally, Senator Marco Follini, the former President of the Christian-Democrat UDC, had announced that he would switch to the Center-Left and vote for Prodi. Unfortunately for Prodi, senator De Gregorio, a former member of the party Italia dei Valori, has switched from the left to right (Centrodestra).

In the end, the Government Prodi got a 162-to-157 vote, exactly one vote more than the required 161. All the 158 Senators of the Left voted for the Government Prodi. Senator Marini, another member of the Centrosinistra, as President of the Senate, honoring the tradition, abstained from voting. With the left voted 4 “
Senators for Life”. Whereas the Center-Right led by Berlusconi could only count on its 156 Senators in the House plus one vote.

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Italy still relies on gerontocrats. Among the decisive “
Senators for Life” are the 97-year old Rita Levi-Montalcini, the 88-year old Andreotti and the 79-year old Cossiga, to name just a few of the very old politicians in Italian politics. Prodi himself is already over 67 (born on August 9, 1939).

In the House (Camera), the margin of the Government Prodi is wide enough. In the morning of March 2, 2007, the vote of confidence came as no surprise. The House has 630 members. In the end, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet got the support of 342 votes out of 597 Members of Parliament present, of whom 595 voted, which gave a majority of 298 votes. Only 253 voted against the Government Prodi. 2 abstained from voting.

The slim margin in the Senate lets most observers speculate that the Center-Left coalition will not manage to stay in power during the entire legislature. The current vote of confidence was just a matter of power politics between the Left and Right. The ideological differences within the heteroclite ruling coalition persist. Both Left-Wing senators, Rossi and Turigliatto, have announced that they have not changed their minds regarding Italy's peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. On March 1, 2007 Rifondazione Comunista expelled Franco Turigliatto from its ranks.

A new vote on the same subject will come up again. Sooner or later, the coalition will end in another crisis, which may then lead to early elections.

 





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