Berlusconi u-turn: Italy avoids backlash as ex-PM humiliated
Silvio Berlusconi's power to sway Italian politics is 'diminished' as he is forced to support Letta
AFTER a push to bring down the Italian government, Silvio Berlusconi has performed a last-minute U-turn and decided to support the current prime minister Enrico Letta.
A vote of confidence in Letta's government was due to be called today after Berlusconi demanded that five ministers from his centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL) resign from the coalition cabinet.
Up to the eleventh hour, Berlusconi seemed determined to topple the fragile five-month-old coalition of his party and Letta's Democratic Party. But amid rumours that dozens of his own MPs were planning to undermine him and support the prime minister in the vote, he has changed his mind.
If the vote of confidence had failed to pass the government would have collapsed, forcing new elections and almost certainly triggering a financial market backlash. Letta earlier warned that it could prove "fatal" for Italy, a country struggling to recover from its worst post-war recession.
Speaking in the senate today, Berlusconi announced: "We have decided, not without internal strife, to back the confidence vote."
The BBC's Alan Johnston described it as a "humiliating climbdown" and says Berlusconi will emerge a "weakened figure, with his capacity to influence Italian politics diminished".
Letta had needed 161 votes in the senate but could only count on the support of about 137 members, meaning he needed about 25 votes from others. According to Italian media, most PDL senators planned to oppose the government but it became clear that a group of about 25 dissidents would have backed Letta, giving him the votes he needed.
Berlusconi claimed he was pulling his ministers out of government over the weekend in protest at a rise in VAT but many believe he was trying to avoid being removed from parliament after being convicted of tax fraud.
The former prime minister is likely to spend a year under house arrest but has pledged to remain on Italy's political scene. ·