Scandal-plagued Berlusconi survives once again


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome, on October 14, 2011 prior to the start of a confidence vote session. Berlusconi won the crucial confidence vote amid infighting in his ruling coalition as well as growing criticism over his handling of the economy and mounting legal scandals.


Andreas Solaro

In the end, it all went just as expected: the latest 'dramatic day' in Italian politics ended just as it had began, with Silvio Berlusconi's government still firmly power.

Italy's embattled prime minister survived the second no-confidence vote in less than one year. But if last October, after the defection of his then second-in-command, the speaker of Parliament Gianfranco Fini, he scraped through by just three votes – 314 to 311 – this time he can boast a much stronger lead against the opposition: 316 to 301.

As GlobalPost reported this week, this was largely expected: the no-confidence vote had been called by his own People of Freedom of party, after Parliament unexpectedly rejected a key budget law.

The defeat was a sign of growing discontent and division inside his own coalition but it didn't mean that Italians – at lose those seated on the plush seats of the Italian 'Camera' – were ready to ditch him for good.

All's good and rosy then? Well, no.

Up to the last second, it seemed like a Parliamentary stratagem devised by the opposition might work: basically, they chose not to show up when they were first called to vote, hoping thus to void the vote altogether because too few deputies were present.

If this had happened, Berlusconi would have been forced to consult with Italy's president – the highly-respected Giorgio Napolitano, charged with the task of preserving the Constitution, to discuss his fate. Mind you, he would not have been forced to resign, but his already weak position would have been dealt another, probably fatal, blow.

But Berlusconi, just like last October, managed to convince some opposition deputies to come out in his favor.

In this case, five 'radical' deputies, elected as independents in the opposition Democrat Party ranks, showed up in the Parliament hall at the last minute.

Sure, they voted against his government, but with their arrival there were just enough deputies present to make sure that the vote would have been valid.

This convinced many 'teethering' centrist MPs, who had so far lounged in the Parliament antechamber, weighing their chances, to close ranks and vote en masse in favour the prime minister. And thus the result was sealed.

But this doesn't mean that Berlusconi's government is now ready to tackle Italy's economic situation. Immediately after the vote, the prime minister convened a cabinet meeting: but instead of presenting a long-anticipated package to stimulate jobs and growth, he rewarded some of the 'doubting' deputies who had voted for him in the morning with cabinet posts. The growth package, he promised, will be ready by next week.

Inside the prime minister's majority, there is growing uneasiness against austerity measures imposed by the Economics minister, Giulio Tremonti. After he said flatly that any new spending must be covered by cuts in the government, many have asked openly for his resignation.

Despite today's victory, when the new economic package is finally presented next week, it will have a hard time to make it through Parliament.