May 16, 2006

Italy’s Prodi to be asked to form government

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's president prepared to ask
centre-left leader Romano Prodi to form a government on
Tuesday, ending more than a month of political limbo since the
center left narrowly won a national election.

President Giorgio Napolitano said after consulting former
presidents and party chiefs he had summoned Prodi for 7 p.m.
(1700 GMT), and was expected then to give him a formal mandate.

Napolitano said no one in the coalition led by outgoing
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had contested that Prodi
should be named prime minister.

Prodi was expected to put the final touches to his cabinet
list by Wednesday morning and to be sworn in with his ministers
later in the day.

Berlusconi, who also held talks with Napolitano on Tuesday,
said he had "noted the election result" but wanted parliament
to launch a probe into ballots from Italians abroad and those
classed as void.

"As you know, there were many irregularities, many
anomalies that we want cleared up," he told reporters after
meeting Napolitano at the president's Quirinale palace.

By continuing to contest the election result, Berlusconi
ruled out any idea of cooperating with the new administration,
meaning Prodi will have to rely on the constant loyalty of his
coalition to pass legislation and avoid government collapse.

Prodi's first spell in government ended prematurely in 1998
when the Communist Refoundation party deserted him in a
confidence vote. The risk is there again, especially as he has
just a two-seat majority in the upper house Senate.

Berlusconi, who ruled Italy for a record five years,
scorned Prodi's bloc for installing leftist speakers in both
houses of parliament and voting Napolitano, a former communist,
head of state against the wishes of the opposition.

"This situation, resulting from the center left's arrogant
behavior, is unprecedented and leads to a concentration of
power never before seen in 60 years of the republic,"
Berlusconi said.


Prodi was still finalizing his cabinet line-up after days
of bickering between his coalition parties which range from the
Christian Democrat center to communists.

"I will be ready," Prodi told reporters, acknowledging he
still had problems to deal with. Ministries including interior,
defense and justice were still up for grabs.

Prodi's mandate was delayed first by a recount of disputed
ballots and then by the election of a new head of state.

Once Prodi's team has been announced, he must still win a
confidence vote in the Senate, probably by Friday, and another
one in the lower house early next week, before starting work.

Prodi appeared to have decided on two deputy prime
ministers -- Massimo D'Alema, chairman of the Democrats of the
Left party who is also tipped to be foreign minister, and
Francesco Rutelli, leader of the centrist Margherita (Daisy)

Former European Central Bank board member Tommaso
Padoa-Schioppa looks certain to be named economy minister, with
the challenge of revitalizing a lackluster economy and tackling
the enormous national debt and excessive budget deficit.

Two debt ratings agencies have said they will downgrade
their ratings unless Prodi quickly produces a strategy to
improve the books and boost Italy's dwindling competitiveness.

(Additional reporting by Roberto Landucci and Giuseppe