Monti majority dented amid speculation of Berlusconi comeback
Italian borrowing costs spiked on Thursday (6 December) as ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi's party boycotted the government of technocrat PM Mario Monti, fuelling speculation about the media mogul's comeback and possible early elections.
Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party walked out of a Senate vote on a package of economic measures and abstained in a separate vote in the lower house, depriving Monti of his majority. The bills were narrowly passed, however, as there were enough PDL members in the room to ensure the necessary quorum, even if they abstained.
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Parliamentarians asked Monti to consult with the country's president and possibly call votes of confidence in both chambers to see if there is enough parliamentary support for the government or if early elections need to be held.
"We have to understand if it was an abstention on a single vote or a broader political abstention," said Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani.
If the government loses the confidence vote, early elections could be held in January or February.
But President Giorgio Napolitano sought to downplay the meaning of the vote and said he wants to avoid a "turbulent" end to Monti's technocratic government.
"There are pre-electoral political tensions that even outside Italy can be understood without causing alarm about the institutional strength of our country," he said.
Berlusconi resigned a year ago under market and EU leaders' pressure and has so far said he would not run again. But on Wednesday, the 76-year old media magnate suggested a comeback is not off the table.
"I am being assailed by requests to return to the field as soon as possible. Italy today is on the edge of a cliff. I cannot allow this," he said.
His party has plummeted to 13.9 percent in an Ipsos poll published on Wednesday, down from 22 percent in September, while the Democratic Party has a comfortable lead at 36.1 percent.
A date for general elections has not been fixed yet, but they must take place by April. Berlusconi's machinations suggest he may want to bring down the government and hold elections in February, DPA's Rome correspondent reports.
Thursday's boycott may also be just a tit-for-tat move after one of Monti's technocrat ministers, Corrado Passera, warned against the return of the scandal-prone former premier.
"Anything which can make the rest of the world or our partners imagine that we are turning back is not a good thing for Italy," Passera told RAI tv.