Prodi aims to secure centre-left vote

Italian political leaders continued their search for a new government on Friday as Romano Prodi, the caretaker prime minister, tried to strengthen his centre-left coalition and secure it a second term of office.

Mr Prodi won agreement from the nine parties in the coalition on Thursday to support a 12-point political programme, including public spending cuts, measures to help the south of Italy and liberalisation of professions and the service sector.

Mr Prodi’s aim is to ensure that if Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s head of state, asks him to form a new government, he will be able to count on the support of every single centre-left legislator in a subsequent vote of confidence.

It was the centre-left’s lack of a majority in the Senate, parliament’s upper house, that forced Mr Prodi’s resignation on Wednesday when the government unexpectedly lost a vote on foreign policy.

The centre-left is hoping to strengthen its numerical position in parliament by wooing several moderate opposition politicians, including Marco Follini, a former deputy premier, and some of his associates.

However, the Union of Christian Democrats (UDC), the main moderate opposition party, indicated on Friday that it was unlikely to switch sides and join the centre-left, saying it wanted “a government of national responsibility”.

“Italy needs a serious and authoritative government. It is necessary to recognise that the [centre-left] majority is not self-sufficient, neither politically nor numerically,” said Lorenzo Cesa, the UDC leader.

The 12-point programme agreed by the centre-left has some glaring omissions, compared with the policies pursued by the Prodi government up to last Wednesday.

The new programme contains no commitment to extend the legal rights of unwed couples, including gays. This was a divisive issue for Mr Prodi’s coalition, and when the government finally agreed to a modest measure in favour of unwed couples, it came under vociferous attack from Italy’s Roman Catholic Church.

The new programme also contains no commitment to electoral reform, a measure that many politicians and commentators regard as essential to giving Italy more stable governments.

The programme promises a “reordering” of Italy’s welfare system, but says that any reform of the overburdened state pension system would favour the young and those on low pensions.

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