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Italy's ex-communist president to be sworn in

By Wednesday, the 80-year-old senator is expected to ask Romano Prodi to form a government.

india Updated: May 15, 2006 04:16 IST

Italian President-elect Giorgio Napolitano will be sworn in before parliament as the country's first ex-communist head of state on Monday, starting a busy week in politics which will also bring a new prime minister.

By Wednesday, the 80-year-old senator is expected to ask Romano Prodi to form a government, more than a month after the centre-left leader won one of the tightest general elections in Italian history.

Prodi spent the weekend in talks with his coalition, juggling the parties' often conflicting demands for cabinet seats to find a team capable of remaining united in the face of a hostile opposition led by Silvio Berlusconi.

"I think we have an agreement with no problems, including on the deputy prime ministers," Prodi told reporter on Sunday evening, playing down reports of coalition squabbles.

Prodi's slim majority means he must command constant unity from his coalition members -- something rare in Italian politics. His first stint in government ended prematurely in 1998 when the Communist party withdrew its support.

Berlusconi, who says he was robbed at April's election which Prodi's coalition won in the lower house by 25,000 votes of 38 million cast, has predicted the new government will implode within months.

Deputy of deputies?

Massimo D'Alema, chairman of the Democrats of the Left (DS) party who is set to be the new foreign minister, had made it clear he also wanted to be Prodi's only deputy prime minister, upsetting second biggest party, the Margherita (Daisy) which wants its leader, Francesco Rutelli, also to have that title.

D'Alema dismissed as "slander" reports that he had pressured Prodi to make him the only vice prime minister after his ambition to become state president was foiled last week when he was forced to step aside and allow Napolitano the top job.

"For us, political seriousness wins out over ambitions of individuals," D'Alema told La Repubblica daily. "There's no stand-off. We didn't feel there needed to be two deputy prime ministers."

Rutelli, closer to the political centre than D'Alema, as well as being made deputy prime minister is also set to take a ministry, possibly culture or home affairs, according to pundits in the Italian media.

Other coalition squabbles over cabinet seats do not augur well. Clemete Mastella, leader of the small Christian Democrat party UDEUR is reported as saying he could quit the coalition if he does not get the post of defence minister.

Prodi is reportedly considering offering that job -- and the responsibility of pulling Italy's more than 2,000 troops out of Iraq -- to former European Union commissioner Emma Bonino of the Rose in the Fist party.

Pacifists in the coalition, who want an immediate Iraq pullout, say they will not tolerate Bonino, who they consider a hawk. Prodi has said he intends to pull out the troops quickly, in consultation with Rome's allies and the Iraqi government.

There appears to be no doubt about who will have one of the most important and difficult jobs. Former European Central Bank board member Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa is set to be economy minister, taking charge of a flagging economy, one of the world's biggest debt piles and a burgeoning budget deficit.