May 14, 2006

Italy’s ex-communist president to be sworn in

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Italian President-elect Giorgio Napolitano
will be sworn in before parliament as the country's first
ex-communist head of state on Monday, starting a busy week in
politics which will also bring a new prime minister.

By Wednesday, the 80-year-old senator is expected to ask
Romano Prodi to form a government, more than a month after the
center-left leader won one of the tightest general elections in
Italian history.

Prodi spent the weekend in talks with his coalition,
juggling the parties' often conflicting demands for cabinet
seats to find a team capable of remaining united in the face of
a hostile opposition led by Silvio Berlusconi.

"I think we have an agreement with no problems, including
on the deputy prime ministers," Prodi told reporter on Sunday
evening, playing down reports of coalition squabbles.

Prodi's slim majority means he must command constant unity
from his coalition members -- something rare in Italian
politics. His first stint in government ended prematurely in
1998 when the Communist party withdrew its support.

Berlusconi, who says he was robbed at April's election
which Prodi's coalition won in the lower house by 25,000 votes
of 38 million cast, has predicted the new government will
implode within months.


Massimo D'Alema, chairman of the Democrats of the Left (DS)
party who is set to be the new foreign minister, had made it
clear he also wanted to be Prodi's only deputy prime minister,
upsetting second biggest party, the Margherita (Daisy) which
wants its leader, Francesco Rutelli, also to have that title.

D'Alema dismissed as "slander" reports that he had
pressured Prodi to make him the only vice prime minister after
his ambition to become state president was foiled last week
when he was forced to step aside and allow Napolitano the top

"For us, political seriousness wins out over ambitions of
individuals," D'Alema told La Repubblica daily. "There's no
stand-off. We didn't feel there needed to be two deputy prime

Rutelli, closer to the political center than D'Alema, as
well as being made deputy prime minister is also set to take a
ministry, possibly culture or home affairs, according to
pundits in the Italian media.

Other coalition squabbles over cabinet seats do not augur
well. Clemete Mastella, leader of the small Christian Democrat
party UDEUR is reported as saying he could quit the coalition
if he does not get the post of defense minister.

Prodi is reportedly considering offering that job -- and
the responsibility of pulling Italy's more than 2,000 troops
out of Iraq -- to former European Union commissioner Emma
Bonino of the Rose in the Fist party.

Pacifists in the coalition, who want an immediate Iraq
pullout, say they will not tolerate Bonino, who they consider a
hawk. Prodi has said he intends to pull out the troops quickly,
in consultation with Rome's allies and the Iraqi government.

There appears to be no doubt about who will have one of the
most important and difficult jobs. Former European Central Bank
board member Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa is set to be economy
minister, taking charge of a flagging economy, one of the
world's biggest debt piles and a burgeoning budget deficit.