I try to avoid making predictions, but it sure looks like the Prodi government is about to fall.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi just won a vote of confidence in the chamber of deputies, however, Italy he also needs the confidence of the Senate which was elected without the bonus for the coalition with the plurality of the popular vote (won by Prodi's olive tree coalition by 0.07% in the election licensed to thrill).
In the Senate, Prodi appears to have been threatened by the defection of one tiny absurd party the UDEur (acronym changed from UDR in the effort to win a few more votes in a meaningless European parliament election) seriously endangered by the defection of two communists (they still exist in Italy) and doomed by the defection of another absurd tiny party. The two small parties are each led by former allies of the former prime minister (twice) opposition leader and media mogul and total crook Silvio Berlusconi who is very eager for an anticipated election which his coalition is likely to win. People seem to like "The Sack of Rome" (which I have not read) which is an explanation in English of just how appalling he is. Let's just say USA 2004 is not the only election whose result I find totally completely incomprehensible.
The crisis began when a judge ordered the preventive pretrial detention in house arrest of Sandra Lonardo the President of the regional council of the region which includes Naples. She was accused of pressing the administrator of a hospital to appoint certain attending physicians (primari) recommended by her. This is improper, but it is not clear that it is criminal (also it is a very common practice). Prosecutors can obtain pre-trial detention very easily in Italy (while a final conviction takes effectively forever (that is until the statute of limitations runs out) if the defendant is rich enough to have fancy lawyers who know how to delay things as in why is Silvio Berlusconi not in jail).
The legal troubles of the President of the Campanian regional council triggered the (threatening) collapse of the Prodi government, because she is married to Clement Mastella leader of the UDEur and its delegation of 3 senators (out of 322) obtained, because he allies with the highest bidder whether left or right and not because of popular support.
Mastella claims he lost confidence in Prodi because the current (soon to be ex?) majority did not show enough solidarity in the face of this improper assault by magistrates. I mean that is what he says. Publicly. As if it's not a disgraceful confession.
My extremely alert brother in law, Francesco Addis, suspects that his real aim is to block a reform of the electoral law. The much discussed reform aims for "governability" that is eliminating the little parties like the UDEur. Makes sense, although I was assuming it would go no where, since I assume that Berlusconi was bargaining in bad faith.
If, in fact, the second Prodi government falls after 20 months, he can at least point to his accomplishments such as ... none come to mind. It's hard to govern when the prime minister can be brought down by a micro party or two.
update: Prodi lost the vote of confidence in the Senate. Clearly there was nothing to be done. I did my best to save Prodi by predicting this would happen (my predictions are almost always wrong).