Prodi to Form New Italian Government By Next Week

Center-left leader Romano Prodi is not expected to receive the nod to form Italy's government until after parliament elects the country's new president next week.

The delay would prolong the political limbo following the April 9-10 election, which the center-left won by narrow margin over Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives. It would also give Prodi more time to define his Cabinet list, which has already caused some tension within his potentially unwieldy coalition.

Prodi played down the delay, telling the ANSA news agency on Wednesday that, in the end, "there will be a difference of very few days."

Berlusconi stepped down as premier on Tuesday, clearing the way for a Prodi government. The conservative leader stays on as caretaker until the new government is installed.

It is up to the president to give the mandate, and Prodi hoped current President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi would do so.

Ciampi, whose seven-year term expires in mid-May, has indicated he would leave the task to his successor. But recently the president came under pressure to tap Prodi to avoid any further delay.

On Tuesday parliament ended the uncertainty by scheduling the election of the new president for May 8 — meaning there would not be enough time for Prodi to exhaust all the institutional procedures to form a government before then, analysts agreed Wednesday.

The president is elected by lawmakers of both houses of parliament and representatives of Italy's 20 regions — a total of about 1,000 electors.

Italy's top office holder, the president is a largely ceremonial but highly respected figure. At times of government crises or political changeovers, presidents wield some influence, as they have the power to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Ciampi has indicated he would not like another term as president, but bipartisan consensus was building around him.

Berlusconi and his conservative allies urged Ciampi, a unifying figure, to stay on. The center-left has welcomed the proposal, although one of its most influential members, former Premier Massimo D'Alema, aspired to the job.

"Ciampi's name is one that unites the country and I hope this name can be repeated for seven more years at the Quirinale," said Prodi, referring to the presidential palace in downtown Rome.

Experts say Ciampi might be persuaded to stay on if a strong appeal came from both sides. On Wednesday, to a crowd asking him to stay on, he responded "We'll see." Ciampi was visiting his hometown of Leghorn, in northern Italy.