Silvio Berlusconi has been defying pundits' predictions of his imminent demise, but Italian newspapers predicted yesterday that 16 likely defections from his PDL party would put the 75-year-old premier's tottering coalition government out of its misery.
Mr Berlusconi sought to put a brave face on things as he looks ahead to a week of confidence votes. "Despite the defectors, whom I hope will return, we still have a majority," he said yesterday. But even his political supporters say the end is nigh – and cannot come too soon if Italy's debt crisis is to be resolved. "We call on Mr Berlusconi to contribute with all his political influence to the creation of a government of national unity and salvation," said PDL senator, Beppe Pisanu.
If Mr Berlusconi loses a confidence vote, head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, will probably step in to form a caretaker government, whose top priority will be to enact economic reforms.