Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi barely survived two confidence votes in the country’s upper and lower houses of parliament today. In the Chamber of Deputies, a mere three lawmakers made the difference.
The prime minister’s governing coalition has been unstable for months since former ally Gianfranco Fini left Berlusconi’s party along with 35 other “rebels” to set up their own platform. Fini alleges that the only reason for Berlusconi to stay in power is to avoid a series of legal challenges he faces.
In an half hour long speech yesterday, Berlusconi lambasted conservative politicians voting against him for “betraying the mandate received from the electorate.” As Italy remains mired in recession, “we all have to find a way to be united and do what is best for the country,” said Berlusconi, adding that “a crisis” was the last thing the country needed now.
Since 1994, Berlusconi has been prime minister for more than eight years — an impressive feat for a country that is notorious for its political theater. During that time, Berlusconi, who is also a media magnate, has made billions of dollars, survived numerous allegations of corruption and mafia collusion, and has been involved with even more women, all of them young and beautiful.
Even if the prime minister survived to fight another day, the scandals are making it difficult for him to govern. For the past several years, while Italy’s economy slide into recession, Berlusconi has not been able to balance the budget or stimulate economic growth. Unemployment currently stands at 8.5 percent, the highest it has been since 2003. Italy’s public debt amounts to some 120 percent of the country’s GDP.
Berlusconi’s current term is due to expire in 2013. The country’s president has announced not to dissolve parliament for now but the opposition could try to oust the prime minister again before that date.
Fini’s new party, Futuro e Libertà (“Future and Liberty”) may have been able to garner more support by then. It has nowhere near the backing to effectively compete on the political right currently. Since it can hardly afford to ally with the left, especially since the prime minister’s supporters are already stigmatizing them as “traitors”, there may still be a future for Il Popolo della Libertà (“The People of Freedom”), the movement Berlusconi spearheaded last year. As for the prime minister’s own political life, few commentators expect him to hold out until the next election.