Silvio Berlusconi has asked parliament for a confidence vote that will allow him to continue governing at the helm of a centre-right coalition.
The Italian prime minister addressed the lower house of parliament on Thursday, after his government’s defeat by one vote on a routine but still crucial bill on Tuesday, when a score of his deputies failed to attend.
“There is no alternative to this government,” the 75-year-old leader said in a speech that was applauded by his centre-right allies but boycotted by legislators from the centre-left in a rare sign of defiance.
“What is the probability that Berlusconi will fall tomorrow with a clear-cut vote? Very low. In practice, zero“
– Stefano Folli, columnist
“We want to continue working for the good of families and businesses even though a campaign of unprecedented violence has been launched against us by an opposition that is united only by its anti-Berlusconism,” he said.
“I am here and with me I have a politically cohesive majority, apart from some incidents in parliament,” he added, referring to the coalition’s defeat on Tuesday. It was that embarrassing loss that led Berlusconi to address parliament.
“Our task and our duty is to defend Italy from the economic crisis,” he added.
Berlusconi has staked his government’s survival on a vote of confidence in parliament that could take place on Friday.
“Early elections would not solve the problems we have. A crisis now would mean victory for the party of decline, catastrophe and speculation that has been active for months in Europe and Italy.”
His speech came as a few anti-capitalist protesters were camped out in front of the Bank of Italy after a 2,000-strong rally on Wednesday, inspired by the “Indignant” movement in Spain and “Occupy Wall Street” in the US.
Their protest is expected to build up to a bigger rally on Saturday.
Berlusconi’s popularity is at an all-time low.
He is a defendant in three trials for bribery, tax fraud, abuse of power and paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl – as well as the subject of an array of other sex scandals.
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.
|Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga has the latest on
the political storm surrounding Berlusconi
Many commentators saw Tuesday’s vote defeat as a landmark in the decline of the Berlusconi’s political career – which began in the early 1990s when he entered politics with a party called Forza Italia (Go Italy).
The failure to pass the document on the 2010 state balance sheet has created an unprecedented problem for the government.
It cannot approve the country’s upcoming budget until the accounts for the previous year have been ratified.
Former Berlusconi allies such as Claudio Scajola, the ex-economic development minister, have voiced their discontent and rumours have swirled for months over where exactly the allegiances of Giulio Tremonti, the finance minister, lie.
Some commentators have said the chances of a general election before the end of the government’s mandate in 2013 are now higher than before.
Others, however, argue that it is too early to dismiss Berlusconi.
“What is the probability that Berlusconi will fall tomorrow with a clear-cut vote? Very low. In practice, zero,” Stefano Folli, a columnist for business daily Il Sole 24 Ore, said.
“And yet few people think that winning the confidence vote will guarantee him smooth sailing,” he said.
“The prime minister’s real problems are the ones that existed before his visit to parliament and will continue to exist after it.”