One observer in Rome said: 'This government has no legitimacy left. Until we go to the polls again, they don't even have the authority to give out a parking ticket. They are looking to replace these ministers, but corruption is so widespread that the term 'good candidate' is a relative one. It is impossible to distinguish between the corrupt and not corrupt.'
The latest blow to Mr Amato's government came on Friday when Giovanni Goria, the Christian Democrat finance minister, and Francesco de Lorenzo, the Liberal health minister, resigned - the former over a bank scandal, the latter when an investigation was opened into allegations of vote-buying in last April's election.
The resignations came only 10 days after Claudio Martelli, the Socialist justice minister, quit over the corruption scandal in his party. With the threat of yet another government collapse, financial markets took fright and the lira plunged. Having fought off a Liberal rebellion in his coalition, a defiant Mr Amato told the Senate: 'Italy needs a government - it has a government - and this government will continue.' But his options do not augur well.
Mr Amato can replace Mr Goria and Mr de Lorenzo - a difficult task, since whoever he chooses must not be too closely linked to any party. One name touted yesterday was that of the opposition Radical Party leader, Marco Pannella. This would buy time, but more scandals will almost certainly emerge.
His second choice would be a wider cabinet reshuffle - in effect, a new government. This would be resisted by the parties, because it would wreck the results of the fierce political horse- trading which happens every time an Italian government is put together, and would in any case need parliamentary approval. The Prime Minister's third - and least likely - choice would mean destroying his government in order to save it: widening the coalition to take in opposition parties, trying to shore up its credibility. But yesterday Achille Occhetto, leader of the PDS (former Communists) said his party would not bail out the government.
Whatever he does, Mr Amato is trapped. One analyst said yesterday: 'This country needs two contradictory things. It needs a government to prop up the economy, otherwise it will go to hell. But it also needs an election - and that would disrupt confidence even more.'
The crisis, long predicted, is not simply the collapse of another Italian government - the 51st since the war. This time the damage goes much deeper, striking at the roots of the political system and shaking public confidence in institutions.
Mr Amato may hang on to power, if only because there is no alternative. But this would be little help to a country which has lost all patience with politicians.Reuse content