Berlusconi watches, waits on Prodi vote


ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has scheduled a no-confidence vote in the Italian parliament for Wednesday, creating the possibility that media tycoon and three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi could find himself back in power as soon as next week.

Prodi's battered coalition fell apart when Clemente Mastella, then minister of justice, resigned and pulled his tiny three-member Senate delegation away from the ruling coalition. That forced Prodi to call for a risky no-confidence vote that would force him to resign if it passes. And passage is a real possibility given that, without Mastella's party, Prodi's allies are two votes short of a majority in the senate.

A no-confidence vote could open the door for the 71-year-old Berlusconi to return to power. Though Berlusconi, who controls Italian broadcast and cinema giant Mediaset, has vowed to distance himself from politics to make room for younger members of the opposition coalition, he has been the most visible opposition figure since the cracks started appearing in Prodi's coalition.

That could put Berlusconi in a prime position to try to rally enough support to form his own government in the event that Prodi and his allies lose Wednesday's vote.