His adversaries thought this day would never come. Italy’s Justice minister and leader of the catholic-leaning Udeur party, Clemente Mastella, issued his resignation following the news of a judicial probe involving his wife. Mrs. Mastella has been placed under house arrest for purportedly attempting to maneuver certain hospital appointments in the couple’s native Campania region. Along with his wife and 23 other people affiliated with his party, Mastella himself is also under investigation for corruption in the southern Italian region. The former justice minister told parliament he wanted to be with his wife to defend her against these ‘ridiculous’ attacks by the ‘extremist fringes’ of the judiciary. Denying the accusations of corruption, he criticized investigators and the judiciary for the arrest orders and implication of wrong doing: ‘We are not the heads of an association between mafia and politics. We are a party that demands respect’.
Mastella heads a key party in Romano Prodi’s shaky coalition government. Without the Udeur’s three senators, Prodi would lose his majority in the upper house and the government would collapse. Despite his resignation, Mastella said that his party would continue to give parliamentary support to the centre-left administration as long as key issues were met. ‘We’ll be quite demanding, not like before when we accepted compromises. We’ll respect [Prodi’s] programme but we’ll uphold our values on the Church, on civil unions and on foreign policy’, he affirmed.
Meanwhile, the Italian premier has agreed to fill Mastella’s shoes until all accusations are dismissed. Prodi continues to express his support of the fallen politician and the Udeur party.
The Italian government collapsed last week for just six votes. After ex-Justice Minister Clemente Mastella abruptly reneged his support of the centre-left majority government on January 21 (just days after the news of a corruption probe involving him and his wife led him to resign as Justice Minster) Italian premier Romano Prodi was forced to hold a confidence vote in the House and the Senate. Defeated 155 to 161 in the Senate on Jan 24, Prodi, who was elected 20 months ago, resigned, marking the fall of Italy's 61st government since WWII.
President Giorgio Napolitano is still in talks with party leaders over whether to establish an interim government to push through electoral reforms or dissolve parliament and head to the polls. Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and other leaders in the centre-right coalition have all been pushing for fresh elections, while ousted exponents from the centre-left favour an interim administration that
would first unblock the electoral law reform.