Seven senators for life might prove crucial in center-left Italian government

With only a two-seat majority in the Senate, a government by center-left Romano Prodi may have to rely on seven senators appointed for life a group that includes a Nobel Prize winner and a former seven-time premier to ensure its survival.

The votes of these highly respected Italians could prove crucial: In the case of defections or absences by Prodi allies in parliamentary votes they could step in and support the center-left coalition as is expected of at least some of them.

Prodi acknowledged as much himself on Wednesday.

"I didn't count life senators because it's customary not to count them," he told reporters at the foreign press club. "But they vote, and they're part of the Senate."

If the president gives Prodi the mandate to govern Italy,parliament's two houses must put his coalition to a confidence vote. In addition, Italian governments also often resort to confidence votes to ensure swift passage of basic pieces of legislation.

At least one of the life senators has said he would not take part in confidence votes, while some of the others are seen as left-leaning and might come to Prodi's rescue.

"All life senators will cast their votes freely," said one of them, Giorgio Napolitano, a former member of the Communist party and ex-parliament speaker expected to support a center-left government.

Prodi won control of both houses of parliament in one of Italy's closest ever elections, although Premier Silvio Berlusconi has refused to concede defeat and demanded checks.

Prodi insisted Wednesday he has the numbers to form a government.

Still, in the Senate, the center-left won 158 senators compared to 156 won by Berlusconi's conservatives. One independent elected abroad has not yet indicated how he would align himself, raising the possibility that the center-left's two-seat margin could be diminished.

Prodi also said he was certain senators elected abroad would take part in parliamentary works. Four out of six Senate seats went to the center-left, proving decisive in the upper house win.

"They will be present," said Prodi. "It was part of the electoral agreement."

The senators for life are not elected; they are appointed by the president for their achievements a nomination that is one of the greatest honors in Italy, reports AP.

O.Ch.