Italy's embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed Friday to form a new government to steer the country out of its worst political crisis in four years and avert snap elections.
Headed the country's longest-serving post-WWII government
He said after meeting with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi that he thought the new cabinet lineup would take the oath of office on Saturday, adding: "I hope to go to parliament early next week for a vote of confidence."
The premier had struggled to convince the right-wing National Alliance (AN), the Northern League and the Christian Democrat UDC party to stick by him following a major defeat in regional elections early this month.
Ciampi (photo, below) called Berlusconi to the presidential palace after holding two days of talks with leading ruling and opposition politicians. If Berlusconi had failed to revamp his coalition, the president would have likely called early elections, probably in June, which opinion polls say the center-left opposition was likely to win.
Berlusconi was forced to resign Wednesday after the UDC withdrew from his cabinet, demanding a new government with a new program in the wake of the electoral debacle, in which the ruling coalition lost six of eight regions formerly under its control.
The prime minister said his new team would start work next week "to realize the new objectives that the coalition has agreed to."
Not a photocopy?
Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciamp
A major hurdle was apparently overcome Friday morning, when AN deputy head Ignazio La Russa said his party would not oppose the confirmation of Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, a member of the League. The League insists on keeping the ministry to push through its program of distancing Italy's rich north from its lagging southern regions, while the AN wants it taken away from the League, believing that the April 3-4 election debacle was also a rejection of its federalist project.
Another problem Berlusconi faced was to convince his allies -- and the public -- that his new team is not a "photocopy" of his outgoing cabinet. Italian newspapers reported Friday that he was determined to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible, even if it meant a less "innovative" cabinet.
"A few changes are enough," La Repubblica daily quoted him as saying.
This position reportedly upset his allies of the UDC and AN, who are pushing for a fully revamped government to show the Italian electorate that the coalition has taken note of its censure at the polls, which many saw as a dress rehearsal for a parliamentary vote next year.
Berlusconi resisted resigning after the electoral defeat but was forced to give in to his allies, ending Italy's longest-serving government since World War II at more than four years. The center-left had asked the president to call early elections.