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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 February 2007, 11:21 GMT
Analysis: Prodi's fight for survival
By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

Romano Prodi
Many observers say Mr Prodi will not survive the summer
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has asked Romano Prodi to stay on as prime minister and face a confidence vote in parliament.

The call came after two days of talks during which Mr Napolitano consulted leaders of all political parties in an effort to find a solution to the country's political crisis.

Mr Prodi offered to resign on Wednesday after his centre-left coalition suffered a damaging - and embarrassing - parliamentary defeat on the deployment of troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Prodi has been talking tough since tendering his resignation but few believe it amounts to much.

Embarrassed by their defeat, his coalition allies meekly signed up to his "Twelve Commandments" - Mr Prodi's terms for trying once again to patch together a left-of-centre coalition government.

They include giving Mr Prodi the sole right to speak for the government on controversial matters - a condition that in itself underlines his weakness.

As one of Italy's most highly-respected political analysts put it scathingly, it does not amount to a heap of beans.

'Death by thousand cuts'

If anything has helped hold the centre-left together in its time of trouble it is the prospect of a smiling Silvio Berlusconi champing at the bit for the chance to try his hand once again at governing Italy.

Forza Italia party leader and ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi
The Berlusconi factor has helped to hold the centre-left together

But even if Mr Prodi does succeed in putting together a new government he still faces death by a thousand cuts as the tensions inherent in his coalition work their way to the surface.

It is already shown itself to be accident prone - if not downright incompetent - in managing to lose a vote on foreign policy that few observers expected to prove problematic.

It still faces some tough calls.

A planned high-speed rail link between Turin and Lyon, for example, is opposed by many environmentalists including some in the government ranks, although Mr Prodi has been careful to include support for it among his 12 points.

However, if the government was ever to tackle some of the really tough challenges facing the country - such as reform of Italy's costly and outdated pensions system - it could simply implode.

'Hostage PM'

Mr Prodi knows that if he is to have any real chance of survival he needs to broaden the base of his coalition to break his dependence on some of its more radical - and unreliable - members, such as the unreconstructed Communists.

Italian left-wing Senator Fernando Rossi reacts after Wednesday's vote
Wednesday's vote left some senators in deep shock

The danger in that is that he could end up making himself hostage to yet another set of unreliable friends, with their own mini-manifestos of non-negotiable values.

This is particularly true in the Senate, where he lost Wednesday's crucial vote, and where he has the tiniest of wafer-thin majorities.

Already, he has made moves to broaden his appeal to some of the Senators whose votes are vital if he is to hold on to power.

Some of them have been lifelong Christian Democrat supporters.

To secure their support and that of other Catholic Senators one of the government's most controversial policies has sunk without trace: the move to give greater rights to unmarried couples, which was only announced a few weeks ago but had been hotly contested by the Catholic Church and its political allies.

'Revolving-door cabinets'

Ordinary Italians have responded predictably enough to the crisis - it is, after all, nothing new.

The first thing is to stop the political relationships with the extreme parties
Giuseppe Gambino, Palermo

An opinion poll for one newspaper, Repubblica, showed them fairly evenly split between those who backed giving Mr Prodi a second chance and those who wanted early elections - with a small majority for a new centre-left government.

Those who want fresh elections could yet have pause for thought.

Almost all observers agree that the reformed electoral system introduced by the previous Berlusconi government is a mess.

It includes an in-built "bonus" for whoever wins.

In the lower house - the Chamber of Deputies - this has meant a relatively comfortable majority for Mr Prodi.

But in the Senate, where the government slipped on its foreign policy banana skin, it is an altogether different matter.

Italy's Constitutional Court changed the proposed system there to reflect the votes in individual regions.

This means that the electoral bonus won by, for example, the left in Emilia Romagna is cancelled out by that won by the right in, say, Lombardy.

The end result: stalemate - and the danger of a repeat of Mr Prodi's accident last week.

Without radical reform of the electoral system Italy could be heading to a return to the bad old days of revolving-door governments.

Mr Prodi has got his second chance - but it will not be easy. If he survives the summer, he will have done better than many seasoned observers expect.

Giorgio Napolitano on the leadership issue

Profile: Romano Prodi
22 Feb 07 |  Europe
Italian PM hands in resignation
21 Feb 07 |  Europe

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