2008 Italian political crisis
On 24 January 2008 Prime Minister of Italy Romano Prodi lost a vote of confidence in the Senate by a vote of 161 to 156 votes, causing the downfall of his government. Prodi's resignation led President Giorgio Napolitano to request the president of the Senate, Franco Marini, to assess the possibility to form a caretaker government. The other possibility would have been to call for early elections immediately. Marini acknowledged impossibility to form an interim government due to the unavailability of the centre-right parties, and early elections were scheduled for 13 April and 14 April 2008.
Prodi had at the time been in office for 20 months, after winning the April 2006 general election. In February 2007, the Prime Minister handed in his resignation, only to be asked to remain by the President, and winning a vote of confidence in the Parliament.
Prodi had built his government around a coalition called The Union, which consisted of a large number of smaller parties. This situation was in turn the result of an electoral system of proportional representation, due to legislation passed by Berlusconi three months before he lost power. It was when the leader of one of these lesser parties, Justice Minister Clemente Mastella of the Union of Democrats for Europe (UDEUR), came under investigation for corruption that the coalition started to break up. When the media reported an extensive corruption investigation involving Mastella and his wife – an UDEUR politician in Campania – Mastella resigned.
After first promising to support the government, he later retracted this support, and his party followed, in part also due to pressure from the Vatican, for which the government's proposed laws in regards to registered partnerships of same-sex couples, and other liberal reforms were objectionable.
The decision of former Minister of Justice Mastella arrived a few days after the confirmation of the Constitutional Court which confirmed the referendum to modify the electoral system. As stated many times by Minister Mastella, if the referendum would have been confirmed this would lead directly to the fall of the government and it happened.
The fall of the government would disrupt a pending election-law referendum that if passed would make it harder for small parties like Mastella's to gain seats in parliament.
UDEUR's defection forced the question of whether Prodi still had the parliamentarian support to govern. Presenting a motion of confidence to parliament, he won relatively easily in the lower house of the Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, where the coalition's majority was substantial. Yet a win in the upper house – or Senate – seemed unlikely, and President Giorgio Napolitano was said to have warned against going through with the vote.
The vote, held between 3pm and 9pm (CET), was heated and dramatic. During its course the UDEUR party Senator Stefano Cusumano decided to confirm the confidence and to support the prime minister, even against the orders of his party's leader. Cusumano was subsequently subjected to the abuse of his colleagues, being called an "hysterical faggot", "traitor", and reportedly spat on by a member of the conservative UDEUR party. At this point Cusumano apparently fainted, and was carried out on a stretcher. Cusumano's defection had no effect, however: Prodi lost the vote with 161 to 156 votes (one member abstained from voting, while three were absent), and promptly handed in his resignation. On the announcement of the result certain members of the opposition, including National Alliance MP Nino Strano started celebrating with champagne and by eating Mortadella (a derogatory nickname for Romano Prodi, because of his origin from Bologna).
Attempts at a resolution
On 30 January 2008, Napolitano appointed Franco Marini to try to form a caretaker government with the goal of changing the current electoral system, rather than call a quick election. The state of the electoral system had been under criticism not only within the outgoing government, but also among the opposition and in the general population, because of the impossibility to choose candidates directly and of the risks that a close-call election would not lead to a stable majority in the Senate.
After Marini was given the mandate, two politicians (Bruno Tabacci and Mario Baccini) splintered from the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC) to form the White Rose, while two leading members of the Forza Italia faction Liberal Popular Union (Ferdinando Adornato and Angelo Sanza) switched allegiance to the UDC. On 4 February, the Liberal Populars (an UDC faction which favours merging with Forza Italia) seceded from UDC to join Berlusconi's People of Freedom later this year.
On 4 February 2008 Marini acknowledged that he had failed to find the necessary majority for an interim government, and resigned his mandate, after having met with all major political forces and having found opposition to forming an interim government mainly from center-right parties Forza Italia and National Alliance, favoured in a possible next election and strongly in favour of an early vote.,
President Napolitano summoned Bertinotti and Marini, the two speakers of the houses of the Italian parliament, acknowledging the end of the legislature, on 5 February 2008. He dissolved parliament on 6 February 2008. Elections were held on 13 April and 14 April 2008, together with the administrative elections. The elections resulted in a decisive victory for Berlusconi's centre-right coalition.
- Italian general election, 2006
- Italian general election, 2008
- List of prime ministers of Italy
- Politics of Italy
- Prodi II Cabinet
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