14 Dec 2010

Italy’s Berlusconi survives confidence vote

The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survives a no-confidence motion in the Italian parliament, triggering violent protests on the streets of Rome.

Silvio Berlusconi survives no-confidence vote (Reuters)

The Italian Premier won the vote in the Senate and just scraped through by just three votes in the lower house of Italy’s parliament, leaving his centre-right government in an uncertain position because of its faltering support and thin majority.

Protests already going on on the streets outside turned violent, with banks being attacked and cars set alight. Riot police using tear gas made at least 50 arrests.

The crucial confidence vote for Berlusconi would have led to his resignation if he had lost, leaving President Giorgio Napolitano to name a new government or call elections more than two years before they are due.

Berlusconi’s year has been overshadowed by allegations of corruption, a split with former ally Gianfranco Fini which cost him a secure parliamentary majority, and sex scandals which some suggested could cost Berlusconi his career. Even the confidence vote has been called into question, with opposition accusations of corruption answered by fierce denials and counter-accusations.

The seemingly-untouchable 74-year old politician, who has been in power in Italy since 1994 despite a string of gaffes and scandals, will now live to fight another day – although some analysts suggested the narrowness of the victory meant elections could still happen earlier than expected.

‘Berlusconi still not safe’

David Lea, Western Europe analyst at Control Risks, said: “It’s not that surprising – at least, it is how it’s been looking for most of this week. But it doesn’t really change things. Berlusconi will still probably keep using confidence votes as a tactic and I’d still expect we’ll see early elections sometime next year. But he’s safe until the New Year at least.

“If he’d lost this vote, I’d have expected elections in the first quarter. As it is, perhaps the second. He still is in a vulnerable position and overly dependent on the Northern League. As to whether he can win them, it’s impossible to say. The opposition is in disarray but he’s not as personally popular as he was. In any case, you’re not going to see much of the way of policy movement in Italy for a while.”


Economists have been watching the vote in the hope that some action will soon be taken to tackle Italy’s debt burden – one of the highest in the world at 120 per cent 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.”

A drawn-out election campaign may not have been the best thing for Italy’s struggling economy – but a government which will struggle to pass legislation as a result of its dwindling support could also lead to political stagnation, experts warned.

One of Mr Berlusconi’s supporters in Parliament – Senator Lucio Malan, of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party – said he thought the Prime Minister would survive.

“He has still a big job to do. There are reforms to be made and I hope the quality of the work of the Parliament and the Government can improve,” said Sr Malan.

“We had that tine majority and we have to hold on with this majority, but I am sure there is a possibility to widen the support of the Government – after all, the electorate gave us a majority of 30 seats in the lower house and I think some MPs might come back to the parties they have been selected with and support the Government.”


Opponents of Mr Berlusconi threw paint and smoke bombs towards parliament buildings after he survived the vote. In some places protesters scuffled with riot police, who had blocked off the centre of Rome. Protesters also marched in other Italian cities. The marches follow weeks of protests against the government, its austerity measures and planned education.

Gianni Rinaldini, leader of the Fiom workers union, said: “Italian workers want Berlusconi to resign.”