Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday denounced what he called a campaign of lies and slander and said he would survive tomorrow’s knife-edge confidence vote, as tens of thousands of protesters marched for a change of government.
The vote was expected to be so close that Italian President Giorgio Napolitano joked “only those with a crystal ball” could predict the result.
A confident Berlusconi, however, said he expected victory in the vote in both houses of parliament that could trigger his downfall or see the resilient Italian leader bounce back once again.
“For several months Italian public life has been paralyzed by an irresponsible political crisis,” he said in a message to his supporters.
“This crisis stems from lies and slander directed at the prime minister,” he said, accusing the left and defectors from his party of seeking to bring him down at any cost.
Backed by his allies, the anti-immigrant Northern League, Berlusconi has enough support in the Italian Senate but lacks votes in the lower house after its speaker, Gianfranco Fini, led a walkout of about 40 lawmakers from his party.
Berlusconi has been fighting off a series of scandals, including his alleged interference in a police inquiry of a 17-year-old nightclub dancer who said she attended his notorious parties.
He is also under fire for failing to deal with mountains of trash collecting around Naples.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in Rome on Saturday at the call of the main opposition Democratic Party, which laid on 18 special trains, 1,500 buses and even two ships to bring them from all over Italy.
The mass protest brought together a cross-section of society dissatisfied with Berlusconi’s policies, particularly deep cuts to funding for education and culture.