Italy's chronically unstable parliament has been dissolved, making way for snap elections in April. Early opinion polls put media tycoon and Silvio Berlusconi's conservative coalition in the lead.
Italy's politicians will spend spring on the campaign trail
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano dissolved parliament on Wednesday, Feb. 6, after efforts failed to build an interim government.
Napolitano had personally opposed snap elections. Instead, he had hoped that an interim government could find a way to reform the election system, which is blamed for the instability of Italian governments.
"It is my regret today to have to call voters back to voting booths without those reforms having been approved," Napolitano said Wednesday.
Calls for electoral reform
Romano Prodi's tenure was short
The latest crisis in Italian politics started in January when Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition fell apart. The election will be held only two years into Prodi's term, a full three years early. Prodi's coalition, made up of nine parties ranging from moderate Roman Catholics to Communists, was the country's 61st since World War II.
While Italians are used to frequent changes in government, the events of the last month have still been seen as dramatic. Prodi resigned after a small centrist Catholic faction of his coalition defected, leaving him without the majority needed to rule. Attempts to set up an interim government that would pass electoral reform have also failed.
Former opposition leader Berlusconi, leading in the opinion polls by a whopping 16 points, led calls for an immediate election to be held. Berlusconi, who twice served as prime minister, is a 71-year-old billionaire with vast media holdings. His likely challenger will be Walter Veltroni, Rome's 52-year-old mayor who gave his support to the interim government.
Instability likely to continue
Silvio Berlusconi wants back in the game
Political observers say that without election reform the next government will likely prove just as unstable as Prodi's.
"Such early elections represent an anomaly [which] will not be without consequences for the governability of the country," Napolitano said, explaining why he had tried to avoid dissolving parliament.
The erosion of consumer buying power will likely be a central election issue, particularly in light of new data which shows inflation hit a decade high in January.
The election, which by law must be held within 70 days of the dissolution of parliament, has been scheduled for April 13-14 to give candidates more time to campaign.
Prodi will be caretaker premier until the elections.