ROME (AP) Discussions Friday between the Italian president and political leaders could determine if the country will face early elections or an interim government following the resignation of Premier Romano Prodi.
President Giorgio Napolitano has long said he does not want to hold another national election until parliament changes Italy's electoral system, which is widely blamed for contributing to the country's chronic political instability. Decades of revolving-door politics have produced 61 governments since World War II.
But he may be forced to call an early vote if he determines there is no consensus among political leaders to create an interim government to carry out the proposed changes. In the meantime, Prodi will remain in office in a caretaker role.
Prodi resigned late Thursday after the Senate voted 161-156 to sink his 20-month-old center-left coalition in a fiery session in which one senator was spat on, fainted and was carried out on a stretcher.
On Friday, lawmakers from the opposition center-right who passed Italy's existing electoral law during the last government made clear they wanted to proceed to a vote without changing the law, putting pressure on Napolitano from their relative position of strength following Prodi's downfall.
"It's been months since (electoral reform) has been discussed, and there have been different positions registered by both the center-right and the center-left," said Gianfranco Fini, leader of the right-wing National Alliance, who is widely considered to have his eye on the premier's office.
Elected in April 2006, Prodi's government was shaky from the start, plagued by infighting among parties ranging from pro-Vatican centrists to Communists and Greens. But it lurched toward collapse this week after a small Christian Democrat party, whose votes were vital to its Senate majority, yanked its support.
It was the second time that Prodi, a former European Commission president, had been forced to resign because of a betrayal by his purported allies. His first term as premier ended after two years in 1998 when he lost the support of the radical left.
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media magnate who lost to Prodi in 2006 and is eager to return to office, called for swift new elections.
"Now, as quickly as possible, we need to give Italians a government that works," he said amid cheers from his supporters. He said he was "completely" opposed to the creation of an interim government, apparently confident that his party and allies would fare well under the existing electoral system.
Berlusconi's forces, who lasted for a full five-year term starting in 2001, changed the electoral law in 2005, giving disproportionate weight to small parties.
The shift to full proportional representation, letting parties with only 2 percent of the vote get into parliament, was widely seen as a way to placate Berlusconi's tinier allies by improving their chances of getting seats. By contrast, the threshold in Germany is 5 percent.
Those allies were nearly unanimous Friday in rejecting the idea of an interim government.
"The games are over," the ANSA news agency quoted Roberto Calderoli of the right-wing Northern League as saying. "We should go to a vote and we should go with this law, which, despite its defects, guarantees representation and democracy."
But some lawmakers are pushing for an interim government that could change the electoral law. The system gives small parties like the ones that sank Prodi's government disproportionate weight in fragile coalitions.
The leader of the largest party in the outgoing government, Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, contended that early elections without a new law would only "push the country into a situation of dramatic crisis."
Prodi, a former economics professor, had pledged to change Italy's costly pension system and boost growth by liberalizing many areas of Italy's economy, from insurance and banking services to taxis and pharmacies.
But during his rocky 20 months in power, the proposals were often watered down after street protests or under pressure from the radical left in the coalition. Italy's economy, while emerging from a period of zero growth, has remained sluggish.