Italy's political limbo

Since the Second World War, 61 Italian governments have fallen, but none have come down quiet like Romano Prodi's did yesterday. On the Senate floor Prodi made a last minute plea of unity to his fragile coalition of 11 different parties. It did work, at least on one senator, this senator from the tiny center-left Union of Democrats for Europe. The party holds just three senate seats, but given Prodi's wafer-thin majority, it had the same power as any coalition partner to make or break the government. The senator jumped to his feet when Prodi finished to announce that he, unlike his party, would support Prodi's government. What followed was a first even for Italy. First the opposition hurled insults. One law maker called the Union of Democrats for Europe senator a �piece of fecal waste.� Another shouted �prostitute.� Then a member of the senator's own party pointed his finger at him like a gun. And when a third man spit on him, the senator did what his beleaguered government was poised to do: he collapsed physically. Medics carried him out on a stretcher. And that wasn't the end. When the final vote brought Prodi's government down, conservative opposition senators uncorked bottles of champagne, spraying each other and the parliament chamber. They looked more like celebrating sports stars. Italian politics is rarely boring. Perhaps that's why this man wasn't so surprised by yesterday's parliament circus. That man is a Dean at a university in Rome. He says the champagne was a first, �but there have been other things in Parliament. The Northern League at some point had rope, like hanging rope, shown to the crowd.� Italian governments may come and go but Italian politicians tend to hang around. Poised now for a comeback is former Prime Minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. During his last stint in charge, it was Berlusconi who pushed through the complex electoral law that paved the way for Prodi's unwieldy coalition. Ironically it was a coalition so weak it couldn't keep its main promise. That was to undo the electoral law and bring some stability to Italy's government. Berlusconi now wants new elections as soon as possible. If he wins, as polls suggest, he promises to change the electoral law again.

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