Friday, October 14, 2011

Italy PM Silvio Berlusconi wins confidence vote

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has won a key confidence vote in parliament, sparked by questions over his handling of the economy and personal scandals.

Mr Berlusconi won the vote by 316 to 301.

Italy's government credit rating was recently downgraded and parliament failed to back a key part of the budget this week, triggering the vote.

Mr Berlusconi also faces trial on sex, bribery and abuse of power charges.
'Cohesive majority'

Mr Berlusconi needed a simple majority of 316 of the 630 MPs. Together, his Freedom Party and his main coalition ally, the Northern League, have 293 seats.

The Prime Minister's allies applauded when the result of the vote was announced.

However, the BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says the fact that he scraped through with the minimum number of votes presages trouble ahead. If Mr Berlusconi has to get a vote of confidence on every issue, he will find it very difficult to govern.

Even with Mr Berlusconi's survival, our correspondent says most Italians are betting on a general election as early as next spring - more than a year before Mr Berlusconi's term expires.The confidence vote was forced after parliament on Tuesday failed to approve one article of the budget by a single vote. It later emerged that the finance minister had failed to meet the ballot deadline by 30 seconds.

Demanding the confidence vote, opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani said: "The government is not coping with the situation. The problems have all been laid out, but he only knows how to stay nailed to his seat by using tricks."

Ahead of the vote, Mr Berlusconi, 75, said he felt "serene".

He insisted he had a "cohesive majority" in parliament.

"There is no alternative to this government. Early elections would not solve the problems we have. A political crisis now would mean victory for the party of decline, catastrophe and speculation."
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Berlusconi in numbers

At least 51 votes of confidence (including 14 October vote) in his government since it took power in 2008
Three election victories - 1994, 2001 and 2008
Two election defeats - 1996 and 2006
Four ongoing trials
$9bn - net worth of Berlusconi and his family (Forbes, 2010)
2,500 court appearances at 106 trials over 20 years

Despite facing four trials - including for allegedly paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl - and an all-time-low approval rating of 24%, Mr Berlusconi has shown remarkable staying power. He has always maintained his innocence.

On Saturday, he also faces a mass demonstration of some 200,000 people in Rome - similar to recent ones in New York and Madrid - against austerity measures and financial mismanagement.

Italy is considered vulnerable in the current eurozone crisis, with the highest public debt among countries using the European single currency.

The country approved an austerity package last month to balance the budget by 2013 but its central bank chief this week urged the government to introduce more measures to stimulate growth.


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