Rome, April 6 (IANS/AKI) Italy's ruling centre-left Democratic Party was on Thursday reeling from the defeat of its candidate to head a key parliamentary commission, a shock result that threatens the stability of the four-month-old coalition government of Premier Paolo Gentiloni.
Members of the ruling coalition had agreed in advance to vote for the Democratic Party's candidate Giorgio Pagliari to head the upper house Senate's constitutional affairs committee.
But Pagliari lost by a large margin to Salvatore Torrisi from the centrist Popular Alliance Party in a secret ballot that saw members of Gentiloni's coalition break ranks. The Popular Alliance is the government's coalition partner.
Pagliari's 11-16 vote defeat by Torrisi meant that up to five coalition members voted with the opposition grassroots Five-Star movement and ex-Premier's Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, throwing into doubt the government's majority in the Senate.
The constitutional affairs committee has an important role to play in changing the country's electoral law before national polls due by February next year, and which many observers predict will be called sooner.
Wednesday's defeat compounds the problems faced by Gentiloni, who has been struggling with a split in the Democratic Party between a small but influential group of leftwingers and supporters of reformist ex-Premier Matteo Renzi, who shifted the party rightwards.
"Leaving aside the electoral law, there is a problem with the government's majority. How does Gentiloni plan to carry on?" Renzi said after Wednesday's Senate vote, according to sources quoted by La Repubblica newspaper on Thursday.
Renzi, who stood down as Prime Minister after his crushing defeat in a constitutional reforms referendum in December, is expected to win Democratic Party primaries on April 30 and is keen to return to the political fray with a stronger mandate.
Renzi supports early elections to give Italy fresh political impetus and opposition parties including Five Star and the anti-immigrant Northern League also back early polls.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella appointed Gentiloni caretaker Premier in December until fresh elections are held when the parliament passes a new electoral law.