Likely win for Prodi in crucial senate vote today

ITALY: Italian prime minister Romano Prodi is today expected to narrowly win a crucial confidence vote in the senate, just a…

ITALY: Italian prime minister Romano Prodi is today expected to narrowly win a crucial confidence vote in the senate, just a week after his 10-month-old government was defeated on a foreign policy vote in the same chamber.

After losing that senate vote last week, Mr Prodi promptly resigned and the move appears to have frightened fractious elements in his coalition, particularly the radical left.

Mr Prodi's allies are clearly worried that the collapse of the government would pave the way for the return to power of the centre-right, led by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

Last week the Prodi government, Italy's 61st since the second World War, fell two votes short of securing a majority. A number of calculations suggest that this will not happen when the senate votes late this evening.

For a start, the two centre-left dissidents, Fernando Rossi of the Italian Communists and Franco Turigliatto of Rifondazione Comunista, who voted against the government last week, said yesterday they would vote with it today.

However, Mr Turigliatto, who is about to be expelled from Rifondazione because of last week's vote, said yesterday he reserved the right to vote against this government on specific issues, such as Italy's deployment of 2,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Italy's senate comprises 315 elected senators and seven life senators. From its formation last May, this government has relied on the votes of some of the non-aligned life senators to guarantee its majority.

One of the most influential of these, seven times prime minister Giulio Andreotti, played a major role in the defeat last week when he abstained from the vote. Mr Andreotti, a politician closely linked to the Catholic Church, is expected to vote with the government today, given that a controversial Bill intended to provide legal recognition for unmarried and gay couples does not figure in the 12-point political programme around which Mr Prodi regrouped his centre-left forces.

Other life senators, including former presidents Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and Nobel prize-winning scientist Rita Levi Montalcino, are also expected to vote with the government today, while Italo-Argentine senator Luigi Pallaro was another to pledge his vote to Mr Prodi yesterday.

If Mr Prodi wins today, he then moves to the Lower House of Parliament tomorrow where he is assured of a comfortable majority.