Berlusconi’s coalition troubles continue after public spat with his main ally

By Alessandra Rizzo, AP
Friday, April 30, 2010

Berlusconi faces troubles from his own allies

ROME — Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faced more trouble from within his coalition Friday, days after a public feud with his main ally undermined the cohesion of his government.

A Cabinet minister faced calls to resign after he became implicated in a judicial probe. And another party member quit a high-profile job in parliament, accusing Berlusconi of seeking to silence dissent.

While the stability of Berlusconi’s two-year-old government is not at immediate risk, the infighting has exposed rifts and raised the possibility of early elections in 2011— which would be two years ahead of schedule.

“The majority party lives in a climate of mutual suspicion,” Stefano Folli, a leading Italian analyst, wrote in Friday’s editions of Il Sole 24 Ore.

“The legislature is worn out,” he said, and “certainly, the increasing deterioration of political relations favors its dissolution. Not immediately, but in the not-so-distant future.”

Industry Minister Claudio Scajola faced calls to resign after news reports said Friday that he was cited in a broader investigation into the dealings of a Rome businessman. Prosecutors allege that Scajola failed to report the real price of an apartment he bought near the Colosseum with the help of the businessman, according to the reports. Scajola has denied wrongdoing, and on Friday he received the solidarity of the government during a Cabinet meeting, according to fellow minister Ignazio La Russa.

But it is the feud with Gianfranco Fini, a popular politician who co-founded the People of Freedom party with Berlusconi, that poses the biggest danger to the premier.

During a party convention last week, Fini and Berlusconi got into an unprecedented public spat in front of their supporters and TV cameras alike. They pointed fingers at one another, hurled venomous remarks at each other, interrupting one another in an outburst that has been replayed countlessly on Italian television.

At the heart of the dispute is Fini’s claim that his demands and proposals are overlooked and that Berlusconi is more sensitive to the demands of another government ally, the Northern League.

Berlusconi accuses Fini of not being a loyal ally. The premier says Fini, who is currently serving as speaker of the lower house of parliament, should remain above the political fray.

The dispute was rekindled this week when a close aide to Fini, Italo Bocchino, quit his job as deputy whip for the party in the lower house of parliament. Bocchino accused Berlusconi of forcing him out because he had defended Fini in TV talk shows, and of wanting to discourage debate within the party.

Berlusconi’s spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, maintains Bocchino’s decision was his own.

will not be displayed