Berlusconi faces crucial vote amid protests

PRIME Minister Silvio Berlusconi is bracing for a confidence vote in Italy’s parliament this week that will determine his political future amid a rebellion by some allies and growing discontent with his leadership at a time of financial crisis.

Berlusconi faces crucial vote  amid protests

Small anti-Berlusconi demonstrations erupted yesterday in Rome, Naples and other cities in a sign that the anger is spreading beyond Italy’s bickering politicians to its citizens.

Berlusconi is set to address parliament today and will likely defend his government’s record and relaunch its legislative agenda.

The vote of confidence is expected to be held tomorrow, said Fabrizio Cicchitto, a parliamentary whip for the governing party.

If he loses, Berlusconi would be forced to resign.

Berlusconi, a media tycoon, has been weakened by sex scandals centring on so-called “bunga bunga” parties at his villas with dancers and prostitutes.

He faces separate trials in Milan on charges of corruption, tax fraud and — in the most sensational case — paying for sex with a minor. He denies any wrongdoing, claiming that he is the victim of politically-driven magistrates who want to oust him from power.

The government’s rifts — including one between Berlusconi and his powerful finance minister, Giulio Tremonti — have been exposed for weeks over austerity measures necessary to balance Italy’s budget and avoid contagion from Greece’s debt crisis.

The government has modified the measures several times and has drawn criticism for its lack of clear direction.

In a blunt message yesterday, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano demanded “credible answers” from the Cabinet and parliament alike, pointing to “the undeniable display of acute tensions within the government and the coalition”.

It was an unusual step from a highly respected and largely ceremonial figure — and one that added pressure on Berlusconi.

The 75-year-old premier has dismissed any calls for his resignation and vowed to serve out his five-year mandate, which expires in 2013.

But his support in parliament has eroded.

The Italian leader, who came under renewed pressure to step down last week after suggesting his party rename itself with a vulgar slang term for female genitalia, suffered another embarrassment late Tuesday when he failed to pass a key budget provision.

Berlusconi’s allies have dismissed Tuesday’s defeat as a freak incident, saying the confidence vote will show the government still enjoy the parliament’s support.

But recently, Berlusconi has faced open criticism and a rebellion from some long-time members of his party, including two former ministers, who have expressed disappointment over the government.

And long-time ally Umberto Bossi of the Northern League has suggested that Berlusconi’s government would not complete its mandate.

Many Italians who took to the streets yesterday sang the national anthem and yelled slogans against “the caste” — a term that has taken on the pejorative meaning of a corrupted, power hungry political class.

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