Berlusconi survives 51st confidence vote
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's teetering government survived a parliamentary confidence vote on Friday, its 51st such test since a 2008 general election, despite mounting dissent and international criticism of its economic policies.
AFP - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won a crucial confidence vote in parliament on Friday with a comfortable majority that is however unlikely to reassure markets or end growing calls for him to resign.
The ruling centre-right coalition won with 316 votes in favour and 301 against, following a series of rows within the government as well as growing criticism over Berlusconi's handling of the economy at a volatile time on financial markets.
The centre-left "has behaved ignominiously in front of Italians and I hope Italians take this absolutely negative behaviour into account," Berlusconi told reporters ahead of the vote, saying the opposition's "ambush" would not work.
Berlusconi stressed that the coalition needed a simple majority and not an absolute majority in order to win the confidence of parliament. "The important thing is to win against the left," said the scandal-mired billionaire tycoon.
The 75-year-old has come under pressure in recent months due to a series of scandals including criminal charges of having paid for sex last year with a voluptuous nightclub dancer, then 17, nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer".
His popularity has tanked to 24 percent, according to the latest opinion poll.
But Berlusconi has repeatedly fought off critics saying there is "no alternative" to his centre-right government and warning that bids to oust him could further hurt Italy's fragile position on jittery financial markets.
"There is no alternative to this government," he told told parliament on Thursday, saying that the centre-left was "united only by its anti-Berlusconism."
"Early elections would not solve the problems we have. ... A political crisis now would mean victory for the party of decline, catastrophe and speculation."
Berlusconi was forced to turn to parliament to confirm its support after the ruling coalition suffered an embarrassing setback on Tuesday when it was unexpectedly defeated in a low-profile but important technical vote.
The embattled premier's speech on Thursday was slammed as lacking in concrete proposals to tackle Italy's most pressing problems -- from high youth unemployment to weak growth -- and failed to reassure political commentators.
The Corriere della Sera daily spoke of an "atmosphere of interminable agony which weighs on the government." The coalition is likely to survive the vote of confidence, it said, but is "struggling towards the end of the line."
"We are living through the long decline of a government," said Stefano Folli of the daily Il Sole 24 Ore.
The defeat in parliament on Tuesday has revived talk about possible plots against Berlusconi from within the government's own ranks.
Former Berlusconi allies such as ex-economic development minister Claudio Scajola have begun voicing their discontent, and there have been rumours for months as to where Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti's allegiances lie.
Berlusconi is currently a defendant in three trials for bribery, tax fraud, abuse of power and sex-for-money.
His joke last week that his party should change its name to "Go Pussy!" fell flat and incensed many who are concerned that he is damaging Italy's image abroad.
Political uncertainty in Italy and its effect on long-term economic policymaking was cited as a key factor for the recent downgrades of its sovereign debt by ratings agencies Standard & Poor's, Fitch and Moody's.
Some commentators say Tuesday's vote defeat was one more step in the decline of Berlusconi's political career, which began in the early 1990s, and say the government is unlikely to see out its mandate which ends in 2013.
Others however argue that it is too early to dismiss the canny Berlusconi.
On the streets meanwhile, a protest movement similar to the "Indignados" of Spain and "Occupy Wall Street" in the United States has been taking shape.
Tens of thousands are expected to turn out for a rally on Saturday.