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Berlusconi survives vote of confidence
Present: 620 - yes: 342 - no: 275
Article added on September 29, 2010 at 19:49
  
Today at 11:00 Italian time, the countdown for the vote of confidence for Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition began. Since this summer, the Italian prime minister has been in a fight with his former ally Gianfranco Fini whom he kicked out of his party People of Freedom because he was no longer as servile as he used to be and showed his own ambitions the longer the more.

As stated
in August, Gianfranco Fini sees himself as the likely heir to Silvio Berlusconi. But for the former Fascist party leader, the vote of confidence comes to early. He could have literally tried to outlive his rival, since Berlusconi (*1936) is sixteen years older than Fini (*1952). However, the Prime Minister chose to act only two-and-a-half years into his mandate and ask for a vote of confidence.

The Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) was the place of the showdown. Incidentally, the Lower House is headed by Gianfranco Fini (although he was not leading the deliberations as Speaker of the House today). The two main culprits for the current crisis of government were united. For Fini, the showdown came to early. For Berlusconi, the confidence vote was another measure to secure his stay in power. He needed the votes of the Fini faction to survive politically.

First, at 11:07, the Prime Minister had the right to speak. On the day of his 74th birthday, Silvio Berlusconi opened the proceedings with a moderate, statesman-like speech. The populist showman and master-salesman, who could sell a fridge to an Eskimo, showed his serious face.

Seriousness was needed in a time of economic crisis, with Italy's unemployment rate officially around 8,5% and public debt approaching 120% of GDP. Italy has still to implement an austerity package decided in another vote of confidence in August, slashing 25 billion euros in spending, as well as to roll over billions of its debt this year.

Prime Minister Berlusconi said luminary things such as “the minority has to respect the legitimacy of the majority and of the government”. The majority leader stressed that Italy had managed to get through the economic and financial crisis without mass layoffs, that the government had avoided the error of increasing the public deficit through an illusionary “stimulus” package. Berlusconi repeated his will to continue on the street towards fiscal federalism, to lower taxes and to fight illegal immigration which, in his words, had been reduced by 88%. One of the most critical points of Berlusconi's speech concerned his justice reform plans, on which the Prime Minister remained short on details.

The opposition reminded the prime minister of course of his roughly twenty tailor-made laws (leggi ad personam), which the Prime Minister had rushed through parliament and which he had needed much less time of implementation.

During the day, Gianfranco Fini told his new parliamentary group, Future and Freedom for Italy (Futuro e Libertà per l'Italia, FLI), to support the government. Therefore, already well before the confidence vote, it was clear that Berlusconi's government would survive, even if not all the 34 members of his faction (not yet a political party) in the Lower House would follow his advice. Fini also announced that FLI will become a political party.



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The vote of confidence regarded Berlusconi's five-point program, calling for investments in Southern Italy, a reform of the justice system, tax devolution, fiscal reform and the fight against organized crime. The prime minister warned of political instability in a time of crisis.

The result of the vote of confidence, with 620 members of the Lower House present: yes 342, no 275. Without the votes of the Fini faction, Berlusconi's government would not have survived (316 votes needed for the absolute majority). 3 parliamentarians did not vote.

The vote of confidence in the Upper House (Senate) scheduled for tomorrow (September 30) will be a formality since the ruling coalition holds there a majority even without Fini's 10 senators.

On September 27, at a beauty pageant for “Miss Padania”, Umberto Bossi, the populist leader of the devolutionist Northern League, tested the coalition's cohesion once more by giving Rome's ancient acronym SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus - the Senate and People of Rome) a new meaning: “Romans are pigs” (SPQR - Sono porci questi Romani). Among the most outraged men was Rome's Mayor Gianni Alemanno, a member of Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party. With such allies, you don't need enemies.

Luckily for the coalition formed by Berlusconi, Bossi and Fini (although excluded from the People of Freedom Party, still an ally in parliament to push trough the prime minister's five points of reform), the opposition is even more fragile than the government. Communists, socialists, social-democrats, green party members and other political forces opposed to the reign of Silvio Berlusconi can neither present a platform of unity nor a credible common leader. So even if Berlusconi had lost the vote of confidence, it would have been very possible that he would have won early elections towards the end of the year.

As for the center-right coalition, it still has not produced an alternative to Berlusconi. Italy's richest man, with conflicts of interest in almost whatever he touches, continues to govern the EU's fourth largest economy, a disgrace for the European concept of democracy.

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