Berlusconi’s party pulls backing for Monti government

Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party withdrew its support for Italy’s technocrat prime minister Mario Monti, setting up a conflict that could force an early election.

The People of Freedom (PDL) walked out of a Senate confidence vote on a package of economic measures and said it would abstain in a separate confidence vote in the lower house after criticism of Berlusconi from a senior government minister.

Although the symbolic moves did not directly threaten the survival of Monti’s government, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) indicated it would ask President Giorgio Napolitano to dissolve parliament if Monti could not be sure of the backing of the centre-right PDL.

“We think that if the PDL confirms this position, the head of state will find the right ways and forms to manage this incident in the most orderly form possible for the good of the country,” PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani told reporters.

The conflict underlined deep uncertainty in Italian politics before an election due early next year, weakening Italian bond prices.

In an increasingly fevered pre-election atmosphere, Berlusconi dropped a strong hint this week he could go back on previous statements and run for a fifth term as prime minister.

Industry minister Corrado Passera expressed strong reservations about a return bid by Berlusconi, who left office in a cloud of scandal last year as investors despaired of him resolving Italy’s economic crisis.

“Anything which can make the rest of the world or our partners imagine that we are turning back is not a good thing for Italy,” Passera told state broadcaster RAI.

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