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Italy Faces Snap Elections as Government Discussions Fail

Italy has been searching for a way to create an interim government capable of overseeing the necessary reforms in electoral law since Roman Prodi resigned in January. The latest, and possibly last, has also failed.

Premier Prodi and his predecessor Berlusconi

Premier Prodi and his predecessor Berlusconi could be back on the campaign trail soon

Italy's attempts to reform the political system and electoral laws which have led to successive failures and instability once again floundered as Italian Senate Speaker Franco Marini returned his mandate to form a government to President Giorgio Napolitano.

Marini ended three days of consultations with political leaders to see if they would back him in forming a government after Romano Prodi's resignation as centre-left premier on Jan. 24 left Italy in another political vacuum. The failure to find a consensus could pave the way for snap elections.

President Napolitano had given Marini the task of assessing support for a new regime, the main objective being the reform of Italy's political culture to allow for more stable future governments.

Napolitano, who has the power to dissolve parliament and set new elections, but who also believes in the need to reform the electoral law, had hoped that the 74-year-old Marini, a center-left Catholic and former labor union leader, would muster enough support to form a government.

Berlusconi blocks deal

Forza Italia conservative party leader Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi called for new elections

Marini had been given support by most of the country's leading center-left political leaders along with business and labor representatives but was opposed by center-right politicians, led by former premier and center-right opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, which insisted that new elections be held under the current electoral law.

"I returned the mandate to the president, disappointed by the impossibility to achieve the objective which is necessary for the country -- changing the electoral law," Marini told reporters following an evening meeting with the president. "I could not find a significant majority."

Berlusconi meanwhile said that new elections would be "the best thing."

"What is needed is a government elected by the people that can be immediately operational," Berlusconi said following his meeting with Marini earlier Monday. Berlusconi, eyeing a possible return to power, said he hoped "Napolitano calls an election immediately."

"We hope -- and we think that's what will happen -- that ... the head of state will call elections immediately, because the country quickly needs an efficient government to solve its grave problems," Berlusconi said.

"According to the polls we of the center-right have a lead of between 10 and 16 percent," said Berlusconi, stressing that such a majority would allow him, as candidate premier for the opposition, to form a strong government. Berlusconi also said he believed the current electoral law can give "excellent results."

Another center-right leader, Gianfranco Fini of the National Alliance, who had met Marini earlier, echoed the billionaire former premier's words and called for new elections.

Left in minority

Italy Senate speaker Franco Marini, right, arives to speak to journalists with President Giorgio Napolitano,

Marini returned his mandate to President Napolitano (left)

The stance of the center-right under Berlusconi's influence effectively put paid to Marini's chances of cobbling together a majority in parliament, especially in the upper house Senate where, following Prodi's demise, the center-left is in minority.

President Napolitano is now expected to give the center-right what they want and call new elections, most likely to take place by mid-April.

Walter Veltroni, Prodi's heir as center-left leader who would face Berlusconi in an election, had hoped for a longer delay in calling elections to allow a chance for reform.

"I think this risks being a missed opportunity for Italian politics, rushing towards elections with a flawed law," he said.

Italy's current electoral system -- introduced just before the April 2006 elections by the center-right government of Berlusconi, who was then premier -- favors small parties which are then often in a position to dictate terms within government.

Prodi's government -- Italy's 61st since World War II -- an unwieldy coalition of nine parties ranging from moderate Catholics to diehard communists, saw its already slim majority in the Senate vanish completely through the defection of two small parties.

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