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Berlusconi seeks to consolidate power with confidence vote

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-09-29

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will call for a parliamentary vote of confidence on Wednesday, in a risky move to consolidate power after a nasty break with long-time ally Gianfranco Fini.

REUTERS - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday, paving the way for a decisive showdown after months of feuding with his former ally Gianfranco Fini.

The prime minister is due to address the lower house at 0900 GMT, outlining the priorities for the second half of his term which is due to run until 2013.

He has previously said he would put forward a five-point programme that includes justice reform, measures to give regions more fiscal autonomy, and steps to help the poorer south.

The speech will be followed by a debate and a vote which will show whether the government can still command a majority after the split with Fini and a group of over 40 deputies and senators in July.

The vote will take place on Wednesday evening.

If he loses, Berlusconi will be forced to resign, although Fini’s camp, which risks losing ground if new elections were held, has declared several times that it will not vote to bring the government down.

Fini’s group has said it will not vote for any programme that includes other issues, such as a law Berlusconi wants to restrict the use of wiretap evidence by police.

“We’re ready to listen to the premier,” said Fabio Granata, one of Fini’s closest allies. “If the confidence motion is on the five point-programme, we’ll vote for it. If it’s about things that aren’t in the programme, we won’t,” he said.

The future of the government has been in the balance since Berlusconi effectively expelled Fini from the ruling People of Freedom party they conceived together in 2008 as a new force to unite the Italian centre-right.

There are no great policy differences between the two but even by the Byzantine standards of Italian politics, the acrimony between them has been poisonous, fuelled on both sides by accusations of treachery, corruption, lies and smears.

Fini has accused billionaire media entrepreneur Berlusconi of running the government like one of his private companies and he has been a caustic critic of a series of scandals implicating associates of the prime minister.

Berlusconi in turn accuses Fini, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, of betrayal and says he is only motivated by egotism and personal ambition.

Crunching numbers

Exactly how the parliamentary arithmetic will break down is still unclear, with both Fini’s and Berlusconi’s lieutenants claiming to have won over new recruits from the other side or from the smaller parties.

Yields on Italian 10-year government bonds rose after the announcement of the confidence motion, as markets looked at the possibility that an early vote could hit efforts to consolidate public finances.

However Berlusconi is unlikely to have decided to call the confidence vote if he were not sure of winning and expectations of elections this year have faded, at least for the moment.

“The immediate effects of the vote will be that Berlusconi consolidates his power,” said James Walston, a political scientist at the American University of Rome.

“It’s 99.9 percent sure that there will be no early elections in December. But that doesn’t mean that there will be no elections in the spring,” he said.

Opinion polls show that Berlusconi’s approval ratings have dropped steadily since he came to power in 2008, but the enfeebled centre-left opposition has done even worse and the prime minister would probably win a new election.

However it is likely he would emerge from new elections with a reduced majority in the lower house and could possibly lose his current majority in the Senate, forcing him to seek alliances with smaller parties to pass legislation there.

With problems mounting, there have been despairing calls to order from figures ranging from the head of the Confindustria business lobby to Catholic Church leaders, who say the personal feud has distracted the government from the task of reform.

Italy has emerged only slowly from its worst post-war recession and faces sluggish growth at best, with the European Commission calling on the government to implement measures to improve its declining competitiveness.

Public debt is running at almost 120 percent of gross domestic product, unemployment has been stubbornly high, particularly among young people, and workers have seen spending power squeezed hard over the past decade.

But at the same time, Berlusconi and Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti have put a tight clamp on public spending and kept Italy out of the turmoil that has swept across countries with much higher budget deficits such as Greece, Spain or Ireland.

Date created : 2010-09-29


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