Prodi government is the largest ever in postwar Italy

Premier Romano Prodi's government, which took office last month, has already set a record: it is the largest ever in postwar Italy, drawing criticism from the conservative opposition.

With the appointment of three more undersecretaries on Friday, the government, between the premier, ministers, deputy ministers and undersecretaries, swelled to 102, one more than the Cabinet led in 1991 by Giulio Andreotti, Italian media reported Saturday.

The large numbers are mostly due to the diverse coalition supporting Prodi, which includes a multitude of parties ranging from mainstream leftist forces to Christian Democrats and hardline Communists. Many analysts say that the varied coalition, combined with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, will make it hard for Prodi to last.

"The more fragile a government, the more its numbers tend to invariably increase," La Repubblica, a left-leaning daily, wrote Saturday in a front-page editorial.

Prodi insists his coalition is solid and vows his government will last the full five years and be effective.

Italian governments have traditionally been large, but starting in the 1990s, in the wake of corruption scandals, there has been an effort to shrink them down, bowing to a public opinion increasingly perceiving large Cabinets as a sign of the politicians' hunger for power and nepotism.

But even in the last decade, it has been hard to keep the numbers down as both coalitions were made up of several parties. The Cabinet led by former conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi, for example, included 97 officials.

The conservatives, who lost April election to Prodi's forces, seized on the opportunity to criticize the center-left, which has promised to cut spending amid the country's economic woes.

"The Prodi government is bound to be the most crowded and least effective in the history of the Italian republic," said Adolfo Urso of the right-wing National Alliance party, reports AP.