Berlusconi survives confidence vote


Rome : Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Wednesday won a parliamentary confidence vote on a set of government proposals which he had declared would not be undermined by ongoing dissent in his ruling coalition.

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In the lower house Chamber of Deputies, the centre-right government received 342 votes for and 275 against. There were three abstentions.

A defeat for the government could have forced it to resign and trigger early elections.

Berlusconi is also set to present the government proposals to the upper house, or Senate, Thursday, followed by another confidence vote, perhaps that same day.

A victory for the premier had appeared more likely Wednesday after some 35 dissident centre-right parliamentarians declared they would support the government on the basis of a reconciliatory speech given by Berlusconi before the vote.

The premier’s intervention in the Chamber of Deputies came in the wake of several months of acrimony between himself and his former ally, Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.

The split has cast doubts over the government’s ability to see out its mandate, which runs until 2013.

In the tone and content of his speech, Berlusconi – who turned 74 Wednesday – appeared to offer an olive branch to Fini.

The premier said the government remained on track to maintain pledges – on security, federalist, judiciary and fiscal reforms, and support for Italy’s less developed south – made by the centre-right ahead of its 2008 election victory.

“Everything else can be debated and improved,” Berlusconi said, referring to the internal dissent within the coalition.

The premier also vowed to press on with reforms to the judiciary, but did not go into the specifics of the issue which has been a major sticking point between him and Fini.

However, Italo Bocchino, a spokesman for Fini’s grouping, warned that the reforms must be “coupled with what is lawful”.

Fini, and a few dozen parliamentarians loyal to him, were effectively expelled from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party in July after repeated disagreements, including over proposed legislation to limit the use of wiretapping in investigations.

Fini has also accused the media-magnate premier of running the People of Freedom like a “private company”. Berlusconi’s allies have demanded that the speaker resign.

The feud has been further exacerbated by repeated demands made by a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s family that Fini shed light on a deal involving a house in Montecarlo.

The property was bequeathed to Fini’s former National Alliance party, but was subsequently used as a residence by his brother-in-law.

The acrimony between the former allies has in recent months dominated news reports and much of the political debate to the expense of what critics – including the centre-left opposition, the labour unions, the main industrialists’ lobby group and the Catholic Church – say are more pressing issues faced by the country.

The critics say more attention should be paid to Italy’s sluggish economy and growing unemployment.