Italy's Berlusconi warns of crisis ahead of crunch vote
Italy's beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has reached out to centre-right opponents and warned parliament members against seeking his ouster in Tuesday’s critical confidence vote.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi warned members of parliament against plotting his downfall ahead of a tight confidence vote on Tuesday, saying the move would plunge the country into crisis at a time of financial turmoil across the euro zone.
Tuesday’s vote in both houses of parliament caps a ghastly year for the “Cavaliere”, marked by a series of sex scandals, mounting opposition to his justice reforms and a bitter fall-out with his long-time ally, the speaker of the lower house, Gianfranco Fini.
Should he win, Berlusconi said he would open talks “to forge a new legislative pact with all moderate forces from the centre and the right”. Should he lose, the 74-year-old prime minister is expected to press President Giorgio Napolitano into calling a general election.
Some analysts say the latter may actually be Berlusconi’s preferred outcome. “Even if he survives the vote there is no doubt the government will be seriously weakened and there is a great deal of controversy about whether he should stay on or not,” said France 24’s correspondent in Rome, Josephine McKenna.
Speaking to the country’s senators on Monday, Berlusconi questioned the wisdom and legitimacy of those seeking to unseat him at a time of turmoil on financial markets.
“Only the Italian people can decide whether a government has failed and should be removed,” the media tycoon said, challenging Fini’s supporters to “betray the will of the people by seeking an alliance with the left”.
Italy’s flamboyant prime minister claimed credit for keeping the country’s economy afloat during the financial crisis. “I can say with absolute certainty that Italy is not part of the economic problems in Europe – it has become part of the solution,” he said.
In the current context, Berlusconi said seeking to replace him with a patchwork coalition of parties from right and left would be tantamount to “folly”.
Too close to call
Fini, whose ouster from the ruling People of Liberty (PdL) party triggered the current crisis, claims Berlusconi has put his personal interests ahead of the country’s and is no longer fit to head the government.
Now heading the newborn Future and Liberty (FLi) party, Fini said Sunday he was confident parliament would vote to remove the prime minister, but the numbers are so close few analysts have ventured into predictions.
While the government can be assured of a majority in the Senate, the outcome in the lower chamber could be decided by one or two votes, including those of three lawmakers who may be too pregnant to turn up.
"Only a few weeks ago Berlusconi could boast of a massive majority, but now he is left hoping for absences and last-minute changes of heart," says Marco Bracconi of Italian daily La Repubblica.
Claims Berlusconi’s party sought to buy votes from centrist and left-leaning lawmakers have added to the tension in recent days and prompted the launch of an inquiry.