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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 April 2005, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Q&A: Berlusconi crisis
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has formed a new government - Italy's 60th in as many years - just days after resigning. The BBC News website examines what is behind the latest crisis in Italian politics.

Why has Mr Berlusconi changed his coalition government?

Mr Berlusconi decided to reform his administration rather than hold elections after a rebellion among coalition partners caused a political crisis.

He resigned but was allowed time to put together a new government by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Within days, Mr Berlusconi had done just that, but in many ways the government is similar to its predecessor.

Mr Berlusconi has left the key jobs of interior, foreign and economy chiefs untouched while shuffling lesser ministries among his partners.

He has brought back his long-time ally and fellow Forza Italia party member Giulio Tremonti as a deputy prime minister.

That post is also held by Gianfranco Fini, who doubles as foreign minister and is from the National Alliance (AN), which had threatened to quit Mr Berlusconi's previous administration.

The centrist Union of Christian Democrats (UDC) - which did rebel and leave the cabinet - has lost Marco Fellini as deputy prime minister but Rocco Buttiglione is moved from looking after European matters to the prestigious culture ministry.

Why did Mr Berlusconi resign?

One of the parties in Mr Berlusconi's right-wing coalition pulled out on 15 April. The UDC withdrew its ministers from the cabinet, saying it was unhappy at government policies.

Later a second coalition partner, the AN, said it was considering whether to leave the government.

The parties wanted the prime minister to resign and form a fresh government with a new platform.

On 18 April, he surprised everyone by saying he would call a vote of confidence instead, forcing coalition partners either to back him or face the collapse of the government and elections.

However, on 20 April he gave way and formally tendered his resignation to President Ciampi.

Was the move a gamble?

After being backed by President Ciampi on Friday, Mr Berlusconi always seemed confident of a comeback with a reshuffled and reconciled coalition.

Some analysts had predicted that Mr Berlusconi might have some trouble in forming and keeping what would be his third government - the second in this parliament (he also had a short spell as prime minister in 1994).

They said this was because each of the three main allies of Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party had a sufficient number of MPs to bring the government down if it defected.

If he had failed to put a government together, elections would have had to have taken place between 45 and 70 days after his resignation.

His resignation was probably influenced by whether he thought he could assemble a new coalition government - or whether a deal had already been done.

But if snap elections had been called, Mr Berlusconi might have stood a better chance of winning them, rather than dragging on with a weak new government until 2006, analysts said.

What upset Mr Berlusconi's coalition partners?

Discontent spilled over after regional elections on 4 April, when the coalition was defeated in 11 out of 13 regions up for grabs.

The UDC and AN accused Mr Berlusconi of bowing to the demands of a fourth coalition partner, the Northern League, which represents the much richer north of Italy.

They want more assistance provided to the poorer south.

They also called for measures to boost industrial competitiveness and for support for large families through a new tax regime.

Is Mr Berlusconi unpopular in Italy?

The prime minister has been losing ground in the polls to the left-wing opposition.

He keeps Italian troops in Iraq despite popular opposition, the economy is stagnant and his attempts to introduce pension and working reforms have prompted strikes.

Previously the left-wing opposition coalition lacked a clear leader, but it has now rallied behind Romano Prodi, the former head of the EU Commission.

It is difficult to say if it is a real swing to the left or just general disenchantment, but current polling suggests the left would win any general election.

Has Italian politics always been this complicated?

Italian governments used to be notoriously short-lived.

The tactic of resigning and re-forming a government was used frequently to avoid elections.

Over a three-year period between the elections of 1976 and 1979, for instance, there were six different governments.

Mr Berlusconi's government was the longest-serving in 60 years and resigning means giving up on his ambition to become the first post-war leader to head the same government over a full - and uninterrupted - five-year term.


SEE ALSO
Berlusconi loses coalition ally
15 Apr 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
23 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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