Italy’s Berlusconi seeks confidence vote, hoping to come out stronger despite defecting allies

By Frances Demilio, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Berlusconi betting on winning confidence vote

ROME — Premier Silvio Berlusconi is betting his government can still muster an impressive majority as he pitches for support in a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies following a nasty break with some coalition allies.

Berlusconi decided to stake his 2 1/2-year-old government’s survival on the outcome of the confidence motion linked to a speech he is set to deliver Wednesday in the Chamber outlining his priorities for the country.

Winning would give Berlusconi a sorely needed boost following opinion surveys of the last few weeks indicating his popularity was slipping. He’ll also get a birthday present — the billionaire businessman turns 74 on Wednesday.

Should he lose his bet, Berlusconi would have to resign, opening the way for possible parliamentary elections much earlier than the 2013 scheduled date.

But Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, Berlusconi’s longtime main ally, exuded optimism Tuesday, saying that enough lawmakers will back the premier rather than risk going to the polls amid a slack economy.

“Berlusconi and I have the votes,” Bossi said.

On Tuesday night several lawmakers, most of them centrists considered potential swing votes, dropped by the premier’s Rome residence for consultations.

Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa told reporters that Berlusconi decided Tuesday to go for the confidence vote.

Berlusconi is looking for a “clear choice, to render things less ambiguous” for Italians wondering about the government’s survival after a summer of nasty feuding involving one of his two main coalition partners, right-wing leader Gianfranco Fini, La Russa said.

Berlusconi sought the appointment in the lower house, where Fini presides as president, to press lawmakers for reforms he insists Italy urgently needs.

Most divisive among his proposals is one to overhaul the justice system. Changes Berlusconi is lobbying for would speed up Italy’s notoriously slow trial system, but they could also put an end to his years as a defendant in two criminal cases stemming from dealings in his media empire.

Despite their feuding, Fini and some of his supporters have said they would support Berlusconi’s justice reform if isn’t tailor-made to help the premier.

Irked by what he said was Berlusconi’s intolerance for any dissent in the coalition, Fini in his split with Berlusconi took more than 30 stalwarts with him, leaving Berlusconi officially shy of the number of lawmakers he needs to win a confidence vote.

Berlusconi’s win in 2008 parliamentary elections had given him a comfortable majority in the lower Chamber as well as in the Senate.

Critics contend Berlusconi wants to change the justice system to help him in his legal woes. The premier has long claimed he is an innocent victim of prosecutors siding with the left.

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