Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was to open talks yesterday to resolve Italy's political crisis after prime minister Romano Prodi's resignation and the end of his center-left government.
While the center-right is clamoring for snap elections after 20 months in opposition, observers say the president is unlikely to send voters back to the ballot box before Italy's electoral law is overhauled.
Right-wing newspapers gloated over the demise of 68-year-old Prodi, the arch-rival of conservative flagbearer Silvio Berlusconi, both of them now former prime ministers twice over.
"The dream has come true," headlined Il Libero over a cartoon showing Prodi hanged by the Senate, where the prime minister lost a vote of confidence on Thursday, precipitating his resignation.
Prodi "leaves the country in tatters," the paper wrote.
The left-leaning press was more sympathetic, the daily La Repubblica's editor-in-chief Ezio Mauro writing that the former economic professor's exit was a "strange and unjust destiny for a politician who has twice defeated Berlusconi [and] twice cleaned up the public accounts."
"He fell like a fighter with dignity and strength, showing himself ... capable of having a vision for the country that is neither mediocre nor closed," daily La Stampa said.
Reformist left-wing paper L'Unita also praised Prodi's dignity in defeat, while likening the new crisis to a "jump into the void."
Berlusconi, now 71, and right-wing National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini immediately called for fresh elections on news of the resignation.
But observers say Napolitano will resist calls for fresh polls.
"Both left and right know that this system creates instability," political scientist Franco Pavoncello said.
Prodi, crippled by the defection early this week of the centrist Catholic UDEUR party, had decided to go ahead with the Senate vote despite appeals from top leaders, including Napolitano, to resign instead.
Despite the support of five senators for life and a last-minute change of heart by one of UDEUR's three senators Prodi fell five votes short.
After UDEUR Senator Nuccio Cusumano voted with Prodi, group leader Tommaso Barbato, beside himself with rage, hurled insults at Cusumano, who broke down in tears and was carried out of the chamber on a stretcher.