By slim margin, Berlusconi wins confidence vote in Italy
ROME - In his narrowest escape yet, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy barely survived a confidence vote yesterday, saving his government from collapse but effectively preventing it from legislating.
With 316 votes for and 301 votes against, Berlusconi’s center-right coalition won the vote. But it failed to secure a solid majority, making it increasingly difficult for him to pass legislation aimed at protecting Italy from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
Had he lost, Berlusconi would have had to resign, marking the end of an 18-year political era in which the billionaire businessman shaped Italian politics in his own image, entwining the country’s fate with his own.
In what the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera called “an atmosphere of interminable agony,’’ analysts said the Berlusconi government was now hanging by a thread and could fall at the next bump in the road - when enough disgruntled lawmakers from within Berlusconi’s coalition calculate that they would be safer jumping off a sinking ship rather than risk drowning.
Berlusconi called the confidence vote after failing to pass a routine vote earlier this week.
Addressing lawmakers Thursday, the prime minister said he was the only “credible alternative’’ capable of governing Italy through the economic crisis and refused to step down.
Since 2009, the European debt crisis has felled governments in Ireland, Portugal, and Slovakia, and led to early elections in Spain and a Cabinet reshuffle in Greece.
Berlusconi has proven to be a tough outlier - not least because the European Central Bank in August agreed to buy Italian debt.
But it did this in exchange for structural changes that the Berlusconi government has not yet implemented.
The results of yesterday’s vote make that even more difficult.
This week, opposition leaders - and the president of Italy, in an unusually strong statement - told Berlusconi that surviving a confidence vote was not the same as governing.
In a statement, President Giorgio Napolitano said the prime minister had to show the “necessary cohesion’’ to tackle Italy’s budget and to propose “adequate solutions to the urgent problems of the country, including in meeting its European obligations.’’
“The government is not dealing with the situation,’’ the leader of the center-left opposition, Pierluigi Bersani, said Thursday. “The problems have all been laid out, but he only knows how to stay stuck in his seat using tricks.’’
Another leading opposition politician, Antonio Di Pietro of the Italy of Values Party, has repeatedly accused Berlusconi of buying the votes of would-be dissidents within his own center-right coalition.
Yesterday, Berlusconi was saved by loyalists who have said they want the government to limp along rather than fall and potentially be replaced by nonpolitical technocrats with a mandate to carry out those structural changes.
Foreign investors and many of Italy’s business leaders and ruling class are hoping for such a technical government, but lawmakers have resisted such an alternative because it would lead to their losing power.
While the political maneuvering continues, the economic storm continues to batter Italy, much to the concern of business leaders and foreign investors.
Mario Draghi, the outgoing governor of the Bank of Italy and incoming president of the European Central Bank, urged the Italian government on Wednesday to take rapid action to bring down its debt, which is at 120 percent of gross domestic product, with zero projected growth.