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Italy's Prodi survives confidence vote in Senate

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi won a Senate confidence measure by 162 to 157, reaffirming his leadership a week after a parliamentary defeat prompted him to tender his resignation.

The vote came after President Giorgio Napolitano on February 24 rejected his offer to step down. The premier must win a second vote in the lower house on March 2 to end the impasse. „We are completely self-sufficient,” Prodi told reporters yesterday after the vote. „Now to the Chamber of Deputies” – or the lower house of parliament, where he has a 40-seat advantage. Prodi's victory may be short-lived.
The Senate will vote by the end of March on funding for Italy's forces in Afghanistan, the same issue that led to the near-downfall of his nine-month-old coalition. Should Prodi lose that test, Napolitano indicated he'd name a government to pass a new electoral law, scrapping current rules that virtually guarantee narrow Senate majorities. „If Prodi falls again, there will be a transitional government that will have to come up with a new electoral law,” said Roberto D'Alimonte, a professor of Italian politics at the University of Florence and a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in California.
Prodi would have won even without the support of seven honorary life-appointed senators. Marco Follini, a former ally of opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, and Luigi Pallaro, an independent, gave him the two-vote margin. Four life senators voted for Prodi, one against, and two abstained.

Today's vote stemmed from Prodi's defeat in the Senate by two votes on a motion to keep troops in Afghanistan. Prodi pledged to keep its almost 2,000 troops in Kabul and Herat in Afghanistan. One in three Italians said they want new elections to be held, according to an Ispo Ltd. poll published yesterday in the daily Corriere della Sera. 40% said they didn't expect Prodi's government to last more than „a few months,” and 21% said they expected him to stay in power for the entire five-year mandate.
The poll had 3.5% margin of error. Prodi's ruling coalition includes both communist and Catholic parties. His government had concentrated on measures to underpin economic growth, including reducing the deficit below the European Union limit, fighting tax evasion, and freeing up overregulated segments of the economy. After losing the Senate vote last week, the nine parties in his bloc agreed unanimously to back a 12 point program going forward, simplifying a 280-page platform drafted during last year's campaign.
Among the government's new priorities are keeping its troops in Afghanistan, continued focus on reducing debt, cutting red tape in the country's services industry and public works projects including train links to France. He also said he won't promote a bill backing same-sex unions. „The government has presented its text to parliament and with this, its job is done,” Prodi told senators today. (Bloomberg)