REPORTING FROM ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, fighting for his political life amid the Eurozone debt crisis, on Tuesday failed to carry the full majority on a key parliamentary budget vote in the latest sign that his support is quickly waning.
The critical vote, seen as a test of Berlusconi’s strength, was made on a measure related to the 2010 budget. While that measure passed the lower house with 308 members behind it, there were 321 abstentions -– a significant number that showed that more of Berlusconi’s backers had been lost in recent days.
Berlusconi's closest coalition ally, Umberto Bossi, on Tuesday joined mounting calls for the premier to resign as financial markets and European leaders lose confidence in his government's ability to implement structural reforms that analysts say are needed to turn around the heavily indebted nation and avoid following the fate of Greece and others that have needed bailouts.
“We asked the prime minister to stand down,” Bossi told reporters before Tuesday's afternoon vote, according to Reuters news service.
Bossi, who heads the Northern League, said the 75-year-old billionaire should be replaced by Angelino Alfano, secretary of the premier's People of Freedom party.
Italy’s bond yields inched higher Tuesday, effectively raising the cost of borrowing and adding mounting pressures on Rome to institute changes.
On Monday, as it became apparent that he had lost a needed majority in the parliament, Berlusconi denied he would resign. But Italian media reports Tuesday indicated he would make a decision after seeing the results.
There was no immediate statement from Berlusconi.
Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said: “This vote is a certificate that the government doesn’t have the majority in this chamber. I ask you, Mr. President, I strongly ask you that you finally realize what the situation is and that you resign. If you won’t do it, and I can’t believe you won’t, the opposition will consider further measure because we can’t go on like this.”
-- Don Lee and Livia Borghese
Photo: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, center, flanked by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, left, and Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi, attends a vote in Rome on Tuesday. Credit: Andrew Medichini / Associated Press