Italian PM battles to save coalition

Enrico Letta has called for a parliamentary vote of confidence amid a tug-of-war over Silvio Berlusconi's legal woes.

Last Modified: 30 Sep 2013 06:08
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Relations between Letta's centre-left grouping and ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi's party have reached rock bottom [AP]

Enrico Letta, Italy’s prime minister, is set to go to parliament to seek a way out of the crisis engulfing his coalition government.

The political turmoil began after ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi pulled his five ministers out of the five-month-old coalition on Saturday.

[Rebel ministers' equivocation had led to a] climate of evident uncertainty regarding possible developments

Giorgio Napolitano,
Italian president

The prime minister said he would present his government plan to parliament, possibly on Wednesday, and ask for a vote of confidence.

Letta said, in a television interview on Sunday, that he will resign if he does not win the vote, adding: "I don't intend to govern at all costs".

He is expected to address parliament early next week.

While avoiding a direct call on Berlusconi's party to rebel against its leader, Letta said it should heed its electorate's desire for stability.

After holding crisis talks with the prime minister on Sunday night, President Giorgio Napolitano said the rebel ministers' equivocation had led to a "climate of evident uncertainty regarding possible developments".

The outgoing ministers, while toeing the party line, have tried to distance themselves from Berlusconi.

One of the five, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, said he would be "pro-Berlusconi in a different way".

Another, Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi, said: "We want to stand behind Berlusconi, but not with his poor advisers".

One possible scenario is that Letta's government could continue to govern, either in its current form or following a reshuffle, with support from Berlusconi rebels and breakaway members of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

But Berlusconi warned his supporters against turning into "traitors" in an interview, saying: "I do not believe in some little government made up of transfers".

The 77-year-old tycoon, who has dominated Italian politics for much of the last two decades, has said early elections are "the only way" out of the crisis.

Napolitano has said he would explore all alternatives before using his constitutional powers to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

'Crazy and irresponsible'

Berlusconi's ministerial move on Saturday has been widely condemned, coming at a particularly sensitive time for Italy on the markets and just as the economy was trying to shake off a two-year recession.

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Letta called Berlusconi's act "crazy and irresponsible" and said the justification used, failure by the cabinet to stop a planned hike in VAT sales tax to 22 percent this week, was a smokescreen for Berlusconi's own interests.

The crisis comes after weeks of brinkmanship between left and right following a supreme court ruling on August 1 that handed Berlusconi his first-ever definitive criminal conviction for tax fraud in a long history of legal woes and sex scandals.

Berlusconi now faces expulsion from parliament and a ban from running in the next elections under a new law aimed at cleaning up Italian politics.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has said he will dissolve parliament and call elections only as a last resort since he wants the electoral law changed before any vote.

February elections helped create the current impasse because they failed to produce a clear winner and the electoral law was blamed for the result.

Letta's uneasy coalition was forged by Napolitano after a two-month deadlock between the prime minister's centre-left Democratic Party, which won the vote by a razor-thin margin, and its eternal rival, Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.


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