ROME: Italy’s government on Wednesday lost a crucial vote in the Senate over foreign policy, including its military mission in Afghanistan — a result that could lead to the resignation of Premier Romano Prodi.
The vote in the upper house was not binding but Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said earlier the government should resign if it could not win the vote.
Seconds after the result was announced by the Senate speaker, opposition lawmakers applauded and chanted “Resign!”
“Prodi’s government has fallen in this room. Let’s take note of this,” said Renato Schifani, Senate whip for opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.
The government needed 160 votes to win backing from the upper house for its foreign policy program. It received 158 votes; 136 members of the conservative opposition voted against it, and 24 abstentions — equivalent to a “no” vote in the Senate — caused the government to lose.
Prodi met with D’Alema and other allies shortly after the vote, as a group of about 50 people gathered outside the premier’s office waving flags from opposition parties and chanting “resignation, resignation” into megaphones. “Prodi and Co. Go Home,” read a banner held by the group.
In the early evening, the premier was expected to hold a Cabinet meeting and then brief the Italian president, who cut short a visit to the northern city of Bologna, on the political situation.
If Prodi resigns, President Giorgio Napolitano could ask him or somebody else — possibly an institutional figure above the political fray — to try and form a new government, or he could call early elections. The last general election was in April.
Cabinet minister Clemente Mastella said the government could call a confidence vote in both houses of parliament to review the coalition’s numbers. The move would be aimed at averting a resignation.
“We need to check if those who have shown uncertainty or said ‘no’ today will say ‘no’ to the government per se,” Mastella said.
Italy has 1,800 troops in Afghanistan, which were sent in by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi. The current government has agreed to keep the troops there, sparking opposition from its own Communist allies.
The radical leftists are pacifists who are against all military action. Some of them have anti-U.S. sentiments and view the Afghan conflict as an American war that Italy should not be part of.
In outlining the government’s foreign policy priorities shortly before the vote, D’Alema sought to persuade the radical leftists to go along with his platform. He said Italy is committed to promoting an international peace conference on Afghanistan and strengthening its civilian and economic engagement in the country — as demanded by the Communists — and called for strong political backing in return.
“A country like Italy, which is not a great power, cannot face such delicate and complex challenges without strong and clear political consensus,” D’Alema said during the wide-ranging, hour-long address.
Prodi’s government has been dogged by bickering within a coalition that ranges from Communists to Christian Democrats. The coalition holds a slight majority in the Senate and any rebellion poses serious risks to its stability.
A separate decree refinancing the Afghan mission is awaiting parliamentary approval. The decree was passed by the Cabinet last month, but three radical leftist ministers walked out of the room to signal their opposition to the measure.
Government decrees need to be converted into law by parliament. In this case parliament has until the end of March to convert it. The Defense Ministry said it did not want to speculate over what would happen in case of a government crisis.