Thank you, Mr Berlusconi
ROME, May 2 — Silvio Berlusconi formally submitted his resignation as Italy's prime minister today, as his apparent successor, Romano Prodi, speeded up his work to form a new government.
Mr. Berlusconi, 69, who had overseen the longest-surviving government here since World War II, had refused for weeks to concede defeat, questioning the results in the tight national elections last month.
But today, the first work day after Mr. Prodi's new government narrowly managed to elect leaders of the new Parliament, Mr. Berlusconi handed his resignation over to Italy's president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
Mr. Prodi, as is usual in such handovers, was present, and the two men shook hands earlier in the day at a funeral service for three Italian soldiers killed in Iraq last week.
"Now it's up to us to form a new government in the time scale that will be set out by the president," Mr. Prodi told reporters.
In the days after the election, with Mr. Berlusconi still actively contesting the results, Mr. Ciampi had said that he would leave to his successor the job of asking Mr. Prodi to form a government. Mr. Ciampi, 85, is retiring on May 18 after his seven-year term.
That would delay the formation of a new government until at least late May, but investors and credit rating agencies concerned about Italy's economic problems and large public debt have been eager for the president to assign the mandate before then. Over the weekend, Mr. Prodi said he would name his entire government by the end of this week.
"My objective is to be ready, but I don't have any intention of dictating to President Ciampi," he told reporters on Monday. "But I can't be unprepared the day that he decides."
Meantime, Mr. Berlusconi's coalition of center-right parties waded into the politically charged debate over the presidency, saying that the new Parliament ought to re-elect Mr. Ciampi.
Mr. Ciampi, a banker and former prime minister himself, "has represented in these seven years a solid moral and institutional point for the entire nation," the coalition said in a statement.
The statement was notable because it essentially answered the question of who Mr. Berlusconi favors for the presidency, an office of tremendous influence and prestige in Italian politics. Filling the office is a complicated issue, both in relations between the Prodi and Berlusconi camps — important because the election was so close — as well as inside Mr. Prodi's own center-left coalition.
Mr. Berlusconi and his allies have argued that, given how many votes he won in the election, he should have a major say in who the candidate is. Over the weekend, Italian newspapers reported that he wanted Gianni Letta, one of this closest advisors, for the job.
But Mr. Prodi has to satisfy the largest party in his own coalition, the Democrats of the Left, and one of its leaders, Massimo D'Alema, also a former prime minister, has circulated as a possible future president.
Mr. Ciampi, one of the nation's most respected politicians, has expressed a desire to retire but has not completely ruled out a second term, though many experts say it might be for a relatively short time. If he agreed to another term — and Parliament confirmed him — it could nullify Mr. Ciampi's desire to have his successor give the mandate to Mr. Prodi, and thus speed up the formation of a new government. (NYT)