Image: Silvio Berlusconi
Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi holds his head during a session at the Senate, in Rome, on Monday. Berlusconi said political stability is necessary in the midst of an economic crisis.
updated 12/13/2010 3:33:41 PM ET 2010-12-13T20:33:41

Premier Silvio Berlusconi battled for political survival Monday, warning lawmakers they risked plunging the country into financial instability unless they support his government in a pair of confidence votes.

The showdown in parliament Tuesday is a do-or-die test for Berlusconi midway through his five year-term. The Italian leader has insisted he will survive and he appeared confident Monday, but the outcome is unpredictable and will likely be determined by a handful of swing lawmakers.

The premier has been hurt by prostitution scandals and revelations that a U.S. diplomat described him as a "feckless" leader, according to a secret U.S. embassy cable released by the WikiLeaks website. A fallout with his one-time closest ally, Gianfranco Fini, weakened his coalition this summer, potentially depriving him of a parliamentary majority.

    1. Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again

      The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

    2. Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
    3. Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
    4. Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
    5. Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold
In speeches to parliament Monday, Berlusconi battled back against his critics and outlined why lawmakers should support his government.

"Today what's at stake isn't the future of the prime minister," Berlusconi said, smiling, as opposition members jeered. "Today, what's in play is the choice between continuing with change or restoring old ways."

He offered to negotiate a new legislative agenda that would allow the government to survive until parliamentary elections are held in 2013. He promised to change the membership of his Cabinet to give government positions to those who support him in the votes.

And her argued that his government had successfully protected Italy from becoming engulfed by the eurozone's debt crisis.

"The last thing Italy needs is a political crisis," Berlusconi said, as his close ally Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, sat next to him.

Berlusconi's government has generally won praise for its reaction to the global financial crisis, steadfastly directed by Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti and including a rigorous austerity package.

  1. Only on
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali
Italy has a high public debt level, and recently faced renewed economic threats. But it is still widely viewed as low-risk due to the low level of private debt, a relatively sound banking system, and experience in dealing with high public debt levels.

"If your concern over Italy's difficult situation is honest and real, then the only possible way forward is renewing confidence in my government," Berlusconi said. Such a vote, he said, "will be proof of realism and political wisdom."

Berlusconi also defended his friendship with Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin following revelations that the U.S. diplomats were uneasy about the premier's close relationship with Moscow. He dismissed suggestions that he had personally benefited from business deals between Italian and Russian companies, saying that "not one dollar ... has been put or will ever be put in my pocket."

Fini and Berlusconi had been allies since the mid-1990s, and recently co-founded the People of Freedom party, winning elections in 2008 together. But after months of public bickering over party and government policies, Fini was effectively expelled from the party. He then formed a breakaway faction in parliament, withdrew his delegation from the government, and urged Berlusconi to resign.

On Monday, the premier appealed to rebel lawmakers who have sided with Fini by reminding them of "the long way we have come together."

"I'm certain nobody wants to hastily throw away what we have created together," Berlusconi said.

Reaction, though, was frosty.

"A government that only wants to last, not to govern, cannot receive our vote of confidence," said Benedetto Della Vedova, a Fini ally, during the debate in the lower house.

Still, some lawmakers close to Fini have expressed doubts about voting against the government, fearing the consequences of provoking a political crisis with no resolution in sight.

The premier is expected to win the confidence vote in the Senate, where lawmakers will be voting on a motion in support of the government brought by Berlusconi's allies.

The risk lies in the lower house, where Fini serves as speaker and where the breakup has potentially deprived Berlusconi of a majority. Faced with the prospect of a very close vote, Berlusconi has been trying to persuade undecided lawmakers — drawing accusations of vote-buying and even an investigation by Rome prosecutors. He has rejected any such accusations.

If Berlusconi loses, he will have to resign — a move that might lead to early elections.

That decision rests with the president, Giorgio Napolitano, who could alternatively ask Berlusconi to form a new government, possibly with a broadened coalition and a revised program, or tap a new premier to lead a new government.

If Berlusconi wins, he is assured more time in office, even though a razor-thin majority is no guarantee of stability. In an apparent recognition of that, Berlusconi said that if he wins, he will work to broaden his coalition and overcome differences.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments