Italy's flamboyant Premier Berlusconi steps down | india | Hindustan Times
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Italy's flamboyant Premier Berlusconi steps down

Berlusconi was infamous for his verbal excesses, repeated brushes with the law, pro-Americanism and domination of the media.

india Updated: May 02, 2006 18:09 IST

Silvio Berlusconi's five-year stint as Italian Prime Minister was to end on Tuesday with his formal resignation, but few think they have seen or heard the last of the flamboyant media tycoon.

After a final cabinet meeting, he was to see President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, finally conceding victory to centre-left leader Romano Prodi more than three weeks after the general election and a bitter battle to hang on to office.

He was left with no choice but to quit after the new parliament on Saturday elected speakers for the lower and upper houses who are both from Prodi's centre-left coalition -- communist Fausto Bertinotti and Franco Marini of the centrist Margherita party.

Berlusconi occupied the prime minister's office for the longest continuous period for half a century.

He was renowned, or infamous, for his verbal excesses, repeated brushes with the law, pro-Americanism, domination of the media and colossal wealth.

Italy's political transition is already under way, and the two speakers have made it clear they want dialogue between the parties that contested the April 9-10 general election, the closest in living memory.

Berlusconi, who contested the centre-left's razor-thin election victory -- by just 25,000 votes -- every step of the way, has now opened a new front in the continuing battle by challenging the legality of his adversaries' political timetable.

While the centre-left wants Ciampi, whose presidential term expires on May 18, to ask Prodi to form a government before seeking parliamentary approval, Berlusconi claims that is the task of the next president, whom parliament must elect.

Politicians locked horns on Monday over the issue, as Prodi huddled with coalition partners to fine-tune his government line-up.

The battle to replace the head of state -- who has the power to appoint the prime minister, dissolve parliament and call elections -- intensified amid media reports that Prodi's coalition favours former prime minister Massimo D'Alema of the Democrats of the Left (DS) party.

"They want to take everything," raged Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi's family, over the prospect that D'Alema would succeed Ciampi as president, after Prodi's candidates for the speakerships of both houses of parliament were approved.

"We represent 50 percent of the country, and so we can only talk about a president who will not come under the influence of the left," Berlusconi aides quoted him as saying, adding that the president should not be someone who would shore up the left wing if its unity starts to crumble, according to the daily La Repubblica.

D'Alema himself refused to comment, and Prodi did not confirm or deny that he would be the candidate.

But the leaders of the DS, the largest party in the Union, have told Prodi that they feel they deserve a major institutional post after the parliamentary speakerships went to other parties, Italian newspapers said on Monday.

In the event of a no-confidence vote -- a by no means impossible prospect given Prodi's wafer-thin majority -- it would be up to the president to decide whether to simply appoint the premier for a new term or call fresh elections.

Meanwhile Prodi, 66, has been meeting with leaders of the various parties in his broad coalition, ranging from communists to centrists, to discuss the formation of his government.

The former European Commission president said his cabinet line-up would be ready by the end of the week.

"My team is not yet ready because we have a few more days for discussion," he said Monday. "There are a lot of things we should talk about, and this should be done calmly and serenely."