REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly won a confidence vote in parliament Friday, but few are willing to predict that his government's political troubles are over.
Support for Berlusconi's center-right coalition has been waning, and the vote was prompted by parliament's failure by one vote Tuesday to approve the 2010 balance sheet. Among those absent Tuesday was Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, showing how political antagonism has spread to the ranks of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.
The opposition was absent from the debate before Friday’s 316-301 vote, as it was for Berlusconi's speech on Thursday announcing the confidence vote.
Beset by the country's economic problems and his own legal troubles, Berlusconi, 75, was nevertheless defiant in his speech Thursday, insisting his government would pull Italy through. However, he offered few specifics.
He warned against early elections which he said would only give an opening to a “party of catastrophe makers, speculators."
"I am here, and with me a majority that is politically cohesive … to bear witness that Italy can make it, and will make it,” he said.
Most commentators found the speech nearly empty of content. “Vague on content of development plans, for fear of upsetting some part of the majority,” noted Pierluigi Battista in his editorial for Corriere della Sera.
Berlusconi’s government has been battered since it was returned to power in 2008 with its coalition partners, the Northern League. Constant media focus on the premier’s carousing sessions, called “bunga-bunga" parties, often attended by models and teenagers, and judicial inquiries into suspected abuse of power, prostitution of minors and tax fraud by branches of his media empire pushed his onetime right-wing ally, Gianfranco Fini, to desert him in 2010. The Northern League still offers grudging support, and its leader Umberto Bossi, had predicted a win in the vote Friday.
Berlusconi's measures to remedy Italy’s financial woes have been heavily criticized as too little and too late. The country’s credit rating was downgraded to A2 earlier this month. In the face of debt which has reached 120% of GDP, an austerity package aimed at balancing the national budget by 2013 is insufficient, said Mario Draghi, head of the Bank of Italy, who is about to take over leadership of the European Central Bank.
In a speech this week, he warned that Italy’s debt could become “ungovernable.”
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attends a confidence vote Friday in parliament in Rome. Credit: Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press