Italian coalition seeks new premier

Politicians from Italy's governing centre-left coalition scrambled to agree on a candidate for premier to succeed Massimo D'Alema and clear the way for his resignation as the price for a stunning electoral defeat.

D'Alema was scheduled to address the Senate on Wednesday and then was expected to turn in his resignation to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi without asking any vote of confidence, parliamentary officials said.

The victorious conservative forces, led by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, kept up their calls for a general election, seeking to take advantage of momentum gained in the regional vote Sunday. The centre-left is trying to hold onto power until it can regroup in time for scheduled elections next spring.

Ciampi had rejected D'Alema's resignation when he first offered it on Monday, but the premier's own allies were now undermining his ability to govern after 18 months in office.

D'Alema, the first former Communist at the helm of an Italian government, leads a coalition ranging from hardline Communists to liberal Christian Democrats.

In Sunday's balloting, Berlusconi's centre-right alliance routed the centre-left, sweeping the affluent north and the region including Rome.

Consensus swelled among the center-left coalition partners to try to avoid early elections by backing a new premier who would be supported by Ciampi.

"We need a new premier, a premier capable of communicating with the new classes in the country," said a D'Alema coalition partner, Pierluigi Castagnetti, a former Christian Democrat.

"Every time they lose, the left of yachts and fancy chefs looks at the middle classes in the north with surprised disgust," said a commentary in Turin's La Stampa newspaper.

The leadership of the Greens, another coalition partner, formally proposed Treasury Minister Giuliano Amato, a former Socialist premier, as their choice to lead the government to parliamentary elections next year. Amato is widely respected abroad and at home for helping Italy rein in its huge deficit.

The left "doesn't know how to interpret the needs of the new producing class, small and medium businesses, industry," said Antonio Bassolino, who used his popularity as Naples mayor to score the most significant victory for the left on Sunday.

Avoiding new elections could let a May 21 referendum to reform Italy's electoral system go forward. The referendum seeks to abolish the remaining 25 percent of seats elected by proportional representation, blamed for the chronic instability of Italian governments. D'Alema headed the 57th government in the past 55 years.

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