Berlusconi faces revolt over plan to topple government
Silvio Berlusconi's own MPs look set to defy him by offering support to Prime Minister Enrico Letta
COULD Silvio Berlusconi finally be losing his touch? The Italian politician is facing rebellion from within his own party over his plan to oust the current prime minister, Enrico Letta, and it could have serious consequences for his own political ambitions.
Billionaire Berlusconi, who has dominated Italian politics for 20 years, has told five of his ministers to resign from the coalition government in a bid to force new elections. But even some of his most loyal supporters look set to defy him...
What is Berlusconi trying to do?
Berlusconi seems determined to topple the Italian government, a fragile five-month-old coalition between his own People of Freedom party and Letta's Democratic Party. He ordered his ministers to leave the cabinet in protest at a rise in VAT. However, many believe he is just trying to avoid being removed from parliament after being convicted of tax fraud. The move comes just a week before the senate is due to strip Berlusconi of his senate seat, upholding a ban that came with his conviction last month. By pulling his ministers out of the cabinet, Berlusconi hoped to force new elections, which he believes his party could win.
Why might his plan fail?
Prime Minister Letta has rejected the resignations of the five ministers and is expected to call for a parliamentary vote of confidence in his government today. If the vote succeeds, the government could continue. The bad news for Berlusconi is that up to 40 of his own MPs and senators look set to back Letta's government. Even Berlusconi's deputy, Angelino Alfano, one of his most loyal supporters, has urged the party to unite behind Letta.
What does this mean for Berlusconi's party?
There is a real danger of a "lasting, damaging split opening in Berlusconi's ranks", says Alan Johnston on BBC News. Dissent is rare in the centre-right camp, says Johnston, but at the moment it is in disarray. The Daily Telegraph says the growing revolt could even herald a party break-up.
What will happen if parliament does not back Letta's government?
Letta will resign and the government will fall, triggering new elections and almost certainly a financial market backlash. As the eurozone's third-largest economy, Italy is already in danger of failing to meet its budget deficit target and, last month, youth unemployment rose above 40 per cent for the first time since records began. The European Union and International Monetary Fund have warned that political stability is vital to drag the country out of its longest post-war recession. Tellingly, Italian markets jumped yesterday amid rumours of rebellion and signs that Letta's government will survive.
What will happen to Berlusconi?
The former prime minister has been sentenced to one year in prison for tax fraud. However, at the age of 77, he is instead expected to be confined to one of his luxurious homes for a year. The sentence should begin next month. Under a 2012 Italian anti-corruption law, his conviction means he should be ejected from the senate and banned from holding public office – whether or not Letta's government is toppled. However, Berlusconi has vowed to fight on. A judge will decide what restrictions to place on his political activities, such as interviews or phone calls from his home, but Berlusconi has insisted "they cannot strip me of the right to speak on the political scene, they cannot strip me of the right to inspire and lead the political movement I founded".