ROME -- The collapse of Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti's 20- month-old government, the 49th since the end of World War II, became inevitable Thursday when the Socialist Party insisted upon a change.
Andreotti, 72, was expected to tender his resignation to President Francesco Cossiga Friday, after reporting to a Cabinet meeting and to the Senate on the outcome of a last-ditch meeting with the leaders of his five coalition parties Thursday.
At the 2 -hour meeting in the Chigi Palace headquarters of Italian prime ministers, Socialist leader Bettino Craxi insisted there must be 'a formal opening of a crisis' -- a term used to mean the resignation of the government and the start of negotiations to form a new one.
'We repeated our concern for the state of political and institutional malaise which has been created and for the buildup of unresolved tensions and problems,' Craxi, 57, told reporters after the meeting.
Craxi, who was prime minister of two successive governments between August 1983 and March 1987, has a good chance of heading the next government if Andreotti, a Christian Democrat, fails to win support of all five coalition parties -- Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, Social Democrats and Liberals.
Christian Democratic Party Secretary Arnaldo Forlani left no doubt that the resignation of Andreotti's government was the inevitable outcome of the morning meeting of the coalition party leaders.
'When there is a coalition government, if one of the parties insists on saying that a crisis gives the greatest possibility of clarifying the situation, this happens,' Forlani told reporters. 'It has always happened and has become the practice for decades. It becomes inevitable. '
But he said all five coalition partners expressed a desire to continue their collaboration and all expressed the hope that new parliamentary elections would not have to be held before the five-year term of the current legislature ends in June 1992.
Elections would become inevitable if nobody succeeds in forming a new government after the resignation of Andreotti's coalition, which was formed in July 1989 as Italy's 49th postwar government.
The long-simmering crisis stemmed mainly from the socialist insistence that Italy needs a new government with a revitalized program for the last year of the legislature so that Italy can get in shape for the European Community Single Market, due to go into effect Jan. 1, 1993.
The Socialists and others also have been demanding that the government work toward reforming the republic's institutions, including changes in the electoral system to permit greater stability.
The political crisis came to a head last weekend, when Andreotti was out of Italy on a visit to France, New York and Washington for consultations on the Middle East after the Persian Gulf War.
Andreotti had hoped to solve the situation with a Cabinet reshuffle and a revised government program. But during the weekend Cossiga made it known he believed a new government was necessary.
On Tuesday Cossiga agreed in a meeting with Andreotti to accept a reshuffle if all the coalition parties agreed with it. But Craxi and his Socialists rejected the proposal.