New Analysis: Berlusconi dramatically wins confidence vote

December 15, 2010 10:55 am 

by Eric J. Lyman

ROME, Dec. 15 — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will hang onto power for at least a few more months after surviving a razor-thin confidence vote that could have forced his resignation.

By the final tally on Tuesday, Berlusconi survived on a 314-311 vote in Italy's lower house of parliament, where he does not hold a solid majority.

The vote total was announced by a visibly tired Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of the lower house and a former Berlusconi ally who helped spark the current crisis by calling for Berlusconi to resign five weeks ago.

The outcome of the vote was unclear until the very end. That's because at least a dozen lawmakers switched camps as the votes were counted in the wake of what local media said was a flurry of last-minute deal-making as both sides tried to tip the scales in their favor.

As the votes were counted, several minor scuffles broke out on the floor of the parliament, including one that lasted for several minutes after the vote of lawmaker Katia Polidori, a Fini supporter who unexpectedly switched sides to support Berlusconi amid catcalls that said she had been "bought" by allies of the billionaire prime minister.

Three other female lawmakers in the late stages of pregnancy all arrived in parliament — one in an ambulance, and another pushed in a wheelchair — in order to vote against the prime minister.

With the vote counting going slower than expected, one of the pregnant deputies, Federica Mogherini vowed that she would leave parliament "only if my water breaks."

To ensure against the threat of possible violence, police and military officials circled both the parliament and the Senate.

But protesters gathered at both places, throwing rocks, paint, and eggs and at several points briefly clashing with law enforcement officials.

There were protests in other cities as well, with at least one protester in Milan reportedly heading to the hospital after a brawl with police.

Berlusconi has seen his support levels erode in recent months because of a series of influence peddling and sex scandals, a weak economy, several pending lawsuits, and the defection of Fini and several other key allies.

Earlier Tuesday, Berlusconi comfortably won the confidence vote in the Senate 162 votes to 135, with 18 Senators either absent or abstaining. But that vote was less of a surprise, because Berlusconi retained a majority there despite the recent problems.

With the victory, Berlusconi will hold onto power — for at least a few months. Political pundits in Italy were already saying that if the prime minister managed to hold onto power by only a small margin his government would be too unstable to govern for long.

As things stand, a walkout by just a handful of parliamentarians would renew the political crisis and again bring the government to its knees.

But Berlusconi, who on Monday told parliament that changing governments during a political crisis was "irresponsible," vowed he would serve out the remaining two years of his mandate by reshuffling his cabinet to give more power to his supporters and negotiating a new legislative agenda to solidify his support.

But critics charge that allegations of vote buying would make it hard for Berlusconi to hold onto power for more than a few months.

Berlusconi's opponents were defiant.

"We have a prime minister who is derided and ridiculed abroad who bought opposition deputies to ensure his majority," said Antonio Di Pietro, one of the opposition leaders. (PNA/Xinhua)



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