Tue, Dec 14, 2010 - Page 6 News List

‘Folly’ to oust me, Berlusconi says

QUESTION OF CONFIDENCE:Today’s vote in the Chamber of Deputies is expected to be very tight amid allegations of vote buying. The Senate is likely to back the PM

AFP and The Guardian, ROME

Photo: REUTERS

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday warned that ousting him would be “political folly” and proposed a deal with opponents on the eve of a crucial confidence vote in parliament.

“I ask you ... to reflect on the political folly that opening a crisis without visible and credible solutions would be today,” Berlusconi said in a speech to the Senate. “Our country is being shaken by serious tensions that concern the heart of the economic system — the financial credibility of the state,” he said.

Italy’s financial stability “depends on the confidence vote,” he said.

He also offered to widen his ruling coalition to include the opposition Union of the Center (UDC) party and members of his rival Gianfranco Fini’s Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI) political movement.

“I want to reconstitute the alliance of all the moderate forces that were the origin of our political engagement,” he said.

His speech came one day after thousands of his supporters took to the streets in about 100 towns and cities across the country on Sunday and one day after Fini said Berlusconi would lose today’s confidence vote.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I believe Berlusconi will not have the confidence,” said Fini said in an interview with broadcaster Rai 3 on Sunday.

“We find ourselves in a situation of political crisis with this government,” he said.

Fini said that Berlusconi had lost the trust of the Italian people and needed to resign so the country could move on.

“If the censure motion does not succeed, we will find ourselves with a government which will try to survive ... This is not a stable government, but a government which stagnates,” he said.

Fini said a new center-right government should replace Berlusconi in the event of his resignation.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied against Berlusconi 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.

Today’s vote in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, is expected to be extremely tight, with neither ruling coalition nor opponents certain of securing a majority. Italian newspapers have been filled in recent days with reports of attempts by Berlusconi allies to “buy” votes by offering consultancy contracts to wavering deputies and there have been some defections to the Berlusconi camp.

Prosecutors have launched an inquiry into vote-buying allegations.

Berlusconi is confident of winning the vote in the Senate.

The prime minister survived a vote of confidence in September by a margin of 342 to 275 votes in the lower house, but 34 of Fini’s dissidents lent their support.

Tensions among the rebels against Berlusconi burst into the open over the weekend when it emerged that six of their representatives in parliament had signed an appeal for peace talks between Fini and the prime minister. Five of the signatories are members of the Chamber of Deputies.

Only one of the signatories had previously indicated he might side with Berlusconi when the ballot was called. At least two more are now thought likely to abstain.

Even by Berlusconi’s eel-like standards, a victory this week would represent an astonishing escape from what seemed like inevitable doom. In the past two months alone he has faced claims that he is profiting from energy deals with Russia; been found by a court to have paid “enormous sums” to Cosa Nostra for protecting his family and business interests; weathered the resignation of four members of his government; and been accused by a prostitute of having twice paid her for sexual favors.

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