Despite a dramatic victory on Tuesday for Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in a make-or-break confidence vote, one of his ministerial colleagues was yesterday predicting that his government would fall by Easter.
Mr Berlusconi showed his swaggering side following his latest political Houdini act, where he won despite accusations of vote-rigging: "I told you, I knew FLI (the party of centre-right rival Gianfranco Fini) would split," he said, adding: "I am serene now, just as I have always been."
In reality the 74-year-old is scrambling for votes to prop up his lower house majority which has been slashed from 100 to just three since the 2008 election. The weakness of Mr Berlusconi's coalition was underlined by one cabinet colleague. Minister without Portfolio Roberto Caderoli, said: "The government is eating panettone [a traditional Christmas treat] but I don't think it will eat colomba [Easter cake]."
The prime minister's task appeared harder when the centrist UDC party leader Pier Ferdinando Casino, a former Berlusconi ally, appeared to close the door to new dealings with the billionaire media mogul. Stronger links with the UDC would, anyway, anger Mr Berlusconi's right-wing Northern League allies. Mr Berlusconi is also trying to lure back more wavering Fini supporters, as well as non-aligned MPs. "I'm not looking at an agreement with political groups but I'm looking at individual deputies who feel betrayed by Fini, who took them into opposition with the left," Mr Berlusconi said.
It is not yet clear who, or how many people, he will succeed in tempting into his centre-right government, which has been rocked by months of scandal surrounding, in the main, the premier himself. Mr Berlusconi's supporters yesterday called on Fini to quit his post as House Speaker, following his defeat in the no-confidence vote, after three members of his breakaway centre-right FLI party deserted at the last moment.
Mr Fini said: "Berlusconi's numerical victory is as clear as our defeat, made even more painful by the 'Road to Damascus' conversion of three of Fli's members." But he added that his party would "have fun" at the government's expense – a promise that it would impede government legislation.
"It will be clear in a few weeks that Berlusconi won't be able to say he won in political terms," he said.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister attacked those responsible for the riots sparked by his unlikely parliamentary victory, saying footage of the disorder broadcast around the world gave "a bad image of our country".