ROME, Apr 29 (Reuters) Romano Prodi's hopes of forming a stable government suffered a setback in the early hours today after he ailed to impose his candidate for speaker of Italy's upper house in three successive secret ballots.
A fourth and final vote will be held later today, when the margin needed to clinch victory will be lowered, opening the way for Prodi's ally Franco Marini to finally clinch the prestigious post in the upper house Senate.
But the fact that he was unable to secure an absolute majority in three initial votes, which at times verged on the farcical, revealed divisions in centre-left ranks and suggested a Prodi government would struggle to get legislation approved.
Supporters of outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi watched the centre-left's problems with glee and said Prodi should not be given the go-ahead to form a government because he could not guarantee political stability.
Prodi's allies struggled to hide their dismay over the setback in the Senate, where at least one centre-left parliamentarian apparently failed to back Marini.
''I am very embarrassed,'' said Pierluigi Castagnetti, a leader of the moderate Daisy Party.
''It obviously means that someone is playing a parallel game.
At this point it is legitimate to suspect that someone in the centre-left is underestimating what is going on,'' he added.
Some of Prodi's allies openly argued with each other in the opulent Senate as the hunt started for possible traitors.
''All day we have seen that the (centre-left) does not have the majority they have claimed to have. At this point, after this Senate vote, they should not receive a mandate to govern,'' said Roberto Calderoli, a former Berlusconi minister.
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