Premier Romano Prodi sailed through a confidence vote in the House on Friday, ending a nine-day crisis that could have toppled his already fragile government. The centre-left premier won the ballot with 342 votes in favour, 253 against, and two abstentions. ‘It was a good vote with a great margin. Above all, the week long debate showed that the centre left is much more united and compact than the centre right. Government action will now be stronger’, Prodi said after the victory. ‘The government has gone through a critical period from which I’m convinced it will emerge stronger and more united’, he added.
Prodi resigned last week after losing a vote on foreign policy in the Senate, where his razor-thin majority government abstained on his motion to continue providing troops in Afghanistan and expand an American military base in Vicenza. After consultations with political leaders, president Giorgio Napolitano rejected Prodi’s resignation and instead asked him to test his majority in Parliament. Prodi survived a tough vote in the Senate, winning the confidence ballot there by 162 votes to 157, although it seems that the upper chamber will continue to pose a risk for Prodi since he holds only one more Senate seat than opposition chief Silvio Berlusconi.
The government’s collapse also reflected its own inherent weaknesses due to Prodi’s rickety coalition of nine very different parties, ranging from moderate Catholics to Communists. As it was, Prodi got extra support from opposition centrist senator Marco Follini, who switched sides last week. Four of the upper chamber’s seven elderly life senators also backed Prodi, although the premier denies that these were key votes in his victory.
The premier insists that his government could last the five-year course. ‘We can proceed with a stable government capable of strong, ongoing and incisive action’, he said. Nevertheless, political analysts believe that although Prodi has survived the crisis, his already fragile majority government would remain weak.
The premier has sought to strengthen his hand by pinning his allies to a new, ‘non-negotiable’ 12-point programme. The agreement, approved a week ago, commits all parties to accepting the government’s foreign policy, including the continuation of the Afghan mission. A key clause is that the premier has the final word in the event of a disagreement. Prodi argues that the 12-point accord shows that the government has the full support of the coalition and that potentially divisive issues have now been clarified.