ROME - Premier Romano Prodi of Italy resigned yesterday after his center-left coalition lost a Senate confidence vote, a humiliating end to a 20-month-old government plagued by infighting.
Calling early elections or asking a politician to try to form another government are among President Giorgio Napolitano's options as head of state. Until he decides, Prodi will stay on in a caretaker role.
Elected in April 2006, Prodi has had a shaky government from nearly the start. It lurched toward collapse this week after a small Christian Democrat party, whose votes were vital to his Senate majority, yanked its support in the latest coalition spat.
Prodi, a 68-year-old former economics professor, went into the vote with the numbers stacked against him after a few additional senators in his coalition parties said they would cast "no" votes.
The government lost 161-156 after a fiery debate during which one senator was spat upon, fainted, and had to be carried out on a stretcher.
Former premier Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media magnate who lost to Prodi in 2006 and is eager to return to office, said Napolitano should call early elections, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
"We need to go to the polls in the shortest time possible without delay," Berlusconi was quoted as saying outside his Rome residence.
But the leader of the largest party in the government, Mayor Walter Veltroni of Rome, contended that early elections would only "push the country into a situation of dramatic crisis." Veltroni, the head of a leftist group of former Communists and pro-Vatican centrists, is considered the likely candidate for the left.
The presidential palace said Napolitano would start consulting with political leaders today on what to do next.