May 19, 2006

Prodi wins confidence vote in Italy’s Senate

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi
survived a confidence vote in the Senate on Friday, winning the
stamp of approval for his new government from the upper house
of parliament where he has just two seats more than the

Prodi won by 165 votes to 155, with his margin of victory
boosted by a "yes" vote from all seven of Italy's unelected
senators for life.

"It couldn't have gone better," Prodi said, moments after
winning a crucial vote that, had he lost, would have seen him
stripped of power and probably finished his political career.

Instead of being a mere symbolic rite of passage, the
Senate vote was an uncomfortable test for Prodi as the tiny
majority he scraped at April's general election meant he needed
all his senators to be present and voting for him.

He now faces a second confidence vote, early next week,
from the lower house. There he has a larger majority due to an
electoral system which awards the winning coalition a bundle of
extra seats.

The centre-left administration has 158 Senate seats against
156 for the opposition led by Silvio Berlusconi, the former
prime minister who still contests the April 9-10 election
result and has predicted the new government will soon collapse.

"We have a solid and cohesive majority in both chambers,"
Prodi said in a speech ahead of the vote, to howls of derision
from centre-right senators.


Although Prodi survived this first test, the tension
revealed cracks in his coalition which is made up of an array
of parties stretching from the center to the hard left.

A junior government party, Italy of Values, threatened to
vote against Prodi in protest at his decision not to appoint a
cabinet minister in charge of the interests of Italians abroad.
It withdrew the threat at the last moment.

Prodi would probably have survived such a desertion, but
even the talk of it just two days after becoming prime minister
was a bad omen for future votes where he will have to rely on
coalition loyalty to get legislation past a hostile opposition.

In his Senate speech, Prodi reiterated Italy would withdraw
its more than 2,000 troops from Iraq before the end of the
year, but stressed he would still pursue a close relationship
with the United States in fighting terrorism.

"Something that struck me (in the parliamentary debate) was
the discussion about the fight on terrorism, and I have to say
we won't accept lessons from anyone on that," he said.

Berlusconi prided himself on his close relationship with
President George W. Bush, whereas Prodi is keen to see Italy
work closer with the European Union on foreign policy. But the
new prime minister said he had good relations with Washington.

"As president of the (European) Commission, I constructed,
together with the United States, a network of new, strong,
serious, transparent relations for the fight against

An Italian general in Iraq, Natalino Madeddu, was quoted in
Friday's Corriere della Sera daily as saying it was
"reasonable" to consider a pull-out in 60-80 days.

Prodi will face tougher tasks at home, where the economy
has stagnated in two of the last three years and the budget
deficit remains stubbornly above the EU limit of 3 percent of
gross domestic product.