- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ROME — Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi won a vote of confidence in the Senate last night after Catholic parliamentarians swelled the ranks of his reconstituted center-left coalition when he hastily dropped proposed legalization of same-sex civil unions, averting the danger of fresh elections for the time being.

Mr. Prodi received 162 votes in the upper house against 157 for the opposition. Four life senators supported giving a second chance to the nine-month-old government while the conservative former President Francesco Cossiga left his sickbed to vote against Mr. Prodi. Giulio Andreotti, the former Christian Democrat statesman, did not take part in the vote.

Mr. Prodi said he was “very satisfied” with the outcome of the contest, while the leader of the former communist Democratic Party, Piero Fassino, said the result showed that “the only possible government is center-left.”

Many commentators say anti-American tendencies on the far left of the government ranks, however, still mean the unorthodox coalition is unstable.

Mr. Prodi had been battling for days to build his support in the upper house after a surprise defeat on foreign policy last week. Initially, that defeat looked set to topple the government, but Mr. Prodi was thrown a lifeline when President Giorgio Napolitano gave him another chance to enact his program of radical economic and political reforms.

Mr. Prodi won a pledge of new votes from Roman Catholic senators, defying pundits who had suggested he risked being snared yet again in the upper house by rebel senators from the far left, or by the Machiavellian maneuvering of Mr. Andreotti.

Mr. Andreotti played a key role in pulling the rug out from under Mr. Prodi in the previous vote. Analysts say the reason for his opposition was disapproval of the government’s plan to legalize civil unions for homosexual couples, a policy opposed by the Vatican.

Mr. Prodi dropped the proposal from the 12-point program he presented in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday.

But Mr. Andreotti apparently took umbrage anew that Mr. Prodi did not at first specifically rule out such legislation on homosexuals and declined to pledge support for the embattled prime minister. Mr. Prodi, in a final appeal last night before the voting, said specifically that the government “has said its last word” on same-sex civil unions, an apparent pledge to respect the requests of the church.

Mr. Prodi received useful support from other former Christian Democrats, such as former President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, but to be able to govern with any confidence he needed to show that he could command a majority in the Senate without being hostage to the capricious behavior of the elderly and often ailing life senators.

Opposition sources had predicted Mr. Prodi would not win last night’s vote and that Mr. Napolitano would be faced with the prospect of calling new elections or forming an interim government.

The Prodi government still could face further danger in two weeks in a vote on Italy’s peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. Radical- left members of the government are known to be concerned that Italian troops could be ordered into combat zones in greater numbers than in the past if an expected Taliban spring offensive materializes.

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