Well, actually not quite the same…
Romano Prodi’s governing coalition has won a confidence vote in the Senate (and is assured of winning shortly in the Chamber), culminating a week-long “crisis” when he tendered his resignation as Prime Minister after losing a vote in the Senate on his foreign policy. The vote was 162-157. Prodi won the support of two Senators who defected from the opposition alliance, including one Christian Democrat, Marco Fillini, who had been a deputy prime minister in a former government headed by Silvio Berlusconi. Prodi also won the support of one of the life senators, former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti (the last PM from the once predominant Christian Democratic party), who had abstained in the government’s defeat last week.
In last week’s vote, only 136 Senators voted in favor and 159 against.* (See the BBC’s graphic on the seat distribution, between and within alliances, after the last election.)
So the new government is not quite the same as the old. It has an additional party and the new coalition guidelines explicitly centralize authority to speak for the government in the hands of the Prime Minister. The government’s previous platform commitment to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples has been dropped to appease the Christian Democratic defectors who have propped up the government.
The communist senators who helped defeat the government last week have been brought back into the fold with a worse deal (for them) than they had before. Certainly, they did not anticipate that their expression of opposition to Italy’s role in Afghanistan on what was neither an announced confidence vote nor a supply bill would lead to the cabinet’s resignation. They certainly did not want a new election, or a return to power by Berlusconi, and now some of their social-policy preferences have been thwarted without their gaining their preferred change in foreign policy. So much for “tail wagging dog” in a coalition government. In this case, the dog clearly showed who gets to do the wagging.
On the issue of the government’s foreign policy, meanwhile, Berlusconi has announced that he will throw the government a lifeline (or should that be, the dog a bone?) the next time a measure comes up to reauthorize the Afghanistan mission, for the sake of Italy’s alliance commitments.** Notwithstanding numerous media reports that claim the Prodi government remains “weak,” it is obvious that the opposition leader recognizes the opposite.
As often is the case in parliamentary systems, Prodi was able to use the (threat of) resignation to buttress his own position. He has emerged a clear winner from last week’s “defeat.”
* As reported by Agence France Presse, 21 February. Link not available.
** In Italian; see last paragraph: “Voteremo per il rifinanziamento della missione in Afghanistan… Voteremo sÃ¬ perchÃ© un Paese si deve comportare con serietÃ e deve avere una politica chiara e leale verso gli alleati.”