ROME — Treasury Minister Giuliano Amato set to work Friday to put together a new government, after the ruling center-left coalition pledged to support his bid to be Italy's next premier.
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi gave Amato--the Socialist premier in 1992-93--the go-ahead after majority leaders insisted their support was solid.
If the politically independent Amato succeeds in forming Italy's 58th government since World War II, he must put the new coalition to a vote of confidence in Parliament. If it is approved, he will replace Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, who resigned Wednesday.
D'Alema, a former Communist, stepped down after a conservative opposition alliance headed by media mogul Silvio Berlusconi trounced the center-left's candidates a few days earlier in regional voting. Berlusconi is a likely candidate for premier in the next general elections.
D'Alema's partners made clear he had to go in order to make room for a fresh face to try to lead the center-left to elections, not now but in spring 2001 as scheduled.
"An agreed-upon political majority exists to give life to a new government," Ciampi said at the Quirinal presidential palace after giving Amato the nod.
Earlier, coalition leader Clemente Mastella said: "The votes are there, they're there." Coalition leaders predicted a government would be formed by late next week.
Amato quickly began the first of several meetings with political leaders to come up with a list of ministers and policies.
The treasury minister, widely credited for helping Italy rein in its budget deficit, wasted no time in trying to win over the left wing in the coalition, which includes Communists wary of pension-cutting and other cost-cutting measures.
"Italy needs more competitiveness in its economy, but it also needs to look out for the social sector," Amato said.
He also pledged to have a streamlined government, saying his coalition will be "serious, efficient."
Amato promised to work to reform an electoral system in which a quarter of Parliament's seats are divvied up by parties instead of by direct election. The system is blamed for constant bickering among tiny parties, which slows the legislative process and sometimes brings down governments.
Sensing a possible victory at the ballot box, Berlusconi's coalition--which includes former neo-fascists and advocates of autonomy for Italy's affluent north--had lobbied Ciampi to call elections now.