ROME -- Just when it seemed that Italy was about to emerge from its political doldrums and dissolve Parliament to make way for new elections, the legislature blocked the process yesterday with a demand for a confidence vote on the government.
The maneuver seemed to be a rear-guard action by lawmakers who stand to lose their jobs -- and their immunity from prosecution -- when Italians go to the polls next spring to pass judgment on the politicians who benefited from the country's huge corruption scandal.
The lower house speaker, Giorgio Napolitano, set the confidence vote for Jan. 12, the first opportunity after the Parliament's year-end recess.
The revolt against the government of Prime Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi reflects the confusion and turmoil in Italy's politics after almost two years of investigations that have implicated more than 3,000 politicians and businesspeople.
The government had been expected to seek a dissolution of Parliament once it won legislative approval this month of a cost-cutting 1994 budget and approved the final details of election reform.
Dissolving the assembly would have cleared the way for President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro to set a date for new elections, expected in late March, and ask Mr. Ciampi's government to remain in office until then.
But late Thursday night, Marco Pannella, a civil rights campaigner known as a parliamentary maverick, demanded a confidence vote.