As President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro began another round of consultations with political leaders for a way out of the crisis, commentators were suggesting he would ask Massimo D'Alema, the leader of the largest left- wing force, Democratici di Sinistra, to try to form a government.
Mr Prodi said yesterday his assignment had proved impossible and the only way ahead would have meant the "unacceptable" destruction of the centre-left coalition. It had been widely expected that Mr Prodi would strike a deal with the small centre-right party, the Unione Democratico per la Repubblica (UDR), whose votes would give him a comfortable majority in the lower house. However, the conditions laid down by the UDR leader, President Francesco Cossiga, were considered excessive.
If President Scalfaro fulfils the predictions of political pundits, Massimo D'Alema, 49, could become Italy's first left-wing prime minister. As a career politician he may succeed where Mr Prodi failed.
The son of a Communist MP, Mr D'Alema followed a classic career path within the party ranks, from secretary of the Communist Youth Federation, to editor of the party's newspaper and MP.
Should his candidature fail, President Scalfaro may fall back on a non- political government headed by an institutional figure such as the speaker of the Senate, the former Christian Democrat Nicola Mancino.Reuse content