Thursday

12th Dec 2019

Berlusconi faces make-or-break confidence vote

  • After nearly two decades in public office, Berlusconi (c) faces the trial of his political life (Photo: Council)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will on Friday confront the political trial of his career: a vote of confidence in parliament on the septuagenarian leader, forced on him as the economic crisis transforms into a political one.

After a vote in the Chamber of Deputies approving last year’s government balance sheet was unexpectedly lost by one vote, calls came thick and fast demanding the premier prove he still commands a majority in parliament.

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Such a loss at any other time could easily have been dismissed as down to absenteeism on the part of legislators from the ruling coalition. But with market pressure on Rome at an all-time high, placing Italy firmly within the camp of troubled peripheral eurozone states, the vote prompted the country’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, on Wednesday to push Berlusconi to demonstrate he will be able to get the 2010 budget approved.

The provocative suggestion from the country’s ceremonial president came atop repeated calls from the opposition that the scandal-beset leader step down.

Berlusconi's coalition is riddled with antipathy toward different elements of a series of budget cuts and structural reforms, a state of affairs that has prompted three credit ratings agencies to downgrade the country’s creditworthiness, citing government instability as grounds for the cut.

Berlusconi is also the subject of four separate criminal trials.

On Thursday, in an address to parliament, Berlusconi declared Italy has no options but to keep him in power.

"There is no alternative to this government," he said. "Early elections would not solve the problems we have ... A political crisis now would mean victory for the party of decline, catastrophe and speculation."

Should Berlusconi lose the vote, he will have to step down, although the president does not have to immediately call fresh elections.

One alternative would be for a cross-chamber government of ‘non-political’ technocrats to take over the reins, a move Berlusconi dismissed as undemocratic.

"The problems of the country cannot be resolved by a technical government not democratically legitimated to make choices that in the present circumstance would also be unpopular ones," he said.

The vote is to be held around 10.30am Rome time.

Separately on Thursday, Standard & Poor’s cut Spain’s long-term credit rating a single notch, from AA to AA- , blaming a faltering economy, soaring unemployment and the scale of the country’s private-sector debts.

The move comes atop a cut in Spain’s credit rating by rival agency Fitch last week.

Mass strikes, protests hit Italy, Spain over EU-imposed austerity

Popular anger over Europe’s strategy of austerity for exiting the eurozone crisis spread to Italy on Tuesday as the country was paralysed by a general strike. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Italians poured into the streets of over a hundred cities and towns to protest what Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin demand.

ECB returns to markets to help Italy and Spain

The European Central Bank has decided buy bonds from troubled eurozone countries after a five-month pause in a bid to stem the crisis from spilling to Italy and Spain.

Italy on course for speedy approval of budget

Italy's lower house of parliament is set Friday for fast-track approval of a three-year austerity budget amid pressure from both the markets and other EU member states to take swift action. Meanwhile, German chancellor Merkel has said a summit on Greece will only be held when a new package is ready to be agreed.

Berlusconi narrowly wins confidence vote

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly won a vote of confidence Friday, cementing his reputation as something of a Houdini of his country's politics where he has reigned almost uninterrupted since 1994.

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