13 Dec 2010

Italy’s Berlusconi faces crucial confidence vote

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a confidence vote in the Italian Senate tomorrow – he’s likely to win but the vote is tight and could have serious repercussions.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a confidence vote (Reuters)

“It is madness to initiate a crisis without any visible and credible solutions,” the Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has warned parliament – the day before a confidence vote that could force him out of office.

Berlusconi said the deputies should be “politically responsible” – especially in the midst of an economic crisis.

Although he’s likely to win a confidence vote in the Italian senate, the vote in the lower house is extremely tight, with just one or two votes in it. His majority fractured back in July, when former ally Gianfranco Fini broke away, forming a rival centre right group.

Today, Mr Berlusconi appealed to them not to bring down his government, offering to welcome Fini’s “Future and Freedom for Italy” movement back into the coalition – along with the opposition Union of the Centre. He told reporters he was confident he would survive.

“I am serene, optimistic and confident as I always am.” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is facing a confidence vote.

“I am serene, optimistic and confident as I always am,” he declared, as he left for a crucial cabinet meeting. If he loses tomorrow’s vote, he’s announced his intention to hold early general elections, possibly in the spring, two years before the end of Berlusconi’s term of office.

His chances of holding onto power have been deteriorating since he expelled Mr Fini from the ruling coalition in July. Fini – who was once a neo-fascist but has now recast himself as a liberal conservative, who even opposes Berlusconi’s hard line anti-immigration plans, withdrew four of his ministers from the cabinet last month, making the prime minister’s position all but untenable.


On top of that – his personal ratings have plummeted amid a series of lurid sex scandals, including allegations of partying with young girls – plus the re-emergence of two corruption and tax fraud trials – including on charges of bribing the British lawyer David Mills to give false testimony to protect Berlusconi’s business interests.

All this, at a time when Italy is trying to cope with one of the heaviest levels of debt burdens in the world – almost 120% of GDP. But Mr Berlusconi has consistently failed to tackle it: claiming “Italy is no longer part of the problems of the European economy. It has become part of the solution.”

With months of political uncertainty now a very real possibility, the financial markets are keeping a close watch on tomorrow’s vote. Silvio Berlusconi’s fate isn’t the only thing on the line.