Berlusconi's fate could hang by a single vote

Premier hopes late surge will beat vital no-confidence motion

Italian opposition MPs are counting down the hours until tomorrow's confidence vote that could allow them to put Silvio Berlusconi's lame-duck government out of its misery in time for Christmas – and possibly boot the beleaguered tycoon-premier into the political outer darkness.

But the deal was by no means sealed last night, as political analysts suggested that frantic last-minute parliamentary mudslinging and deal-broking could mean that Mr Berlusconi would survive by as narrow a margin as a single vote. Claims of vote-rigging and doubt over whether three heavily pregnant deputies expected to oppose the government would be able to attend underlined that the 74-year-old mogul-premier's fate is far from sealed.

The Prime Minister is expected to give a key campaigning speech in the Senate this morning, where he should win the first confidence vote. But a similar vote in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, looks much tighter. It was suggested yesterday that with luck Mr Berlusconi could scrape through by 314-313 votes.

Mr Berlusconi says he is confident of winning a majority despite the defection of former ally Gianfranco Fini, who has taken around 40 centre-right MPs with him. Mr Fini and centre-left parties say they have enough votes in the bag to sink the government. Yesterday Mr Fini said: "I don't have a crystal ball but I don't believe that Berlusconi will win the vote."

If the government does fall, Mr Berlusconi will be obliged to offer his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano.

The head of state would then consult with party leaders and the speakers of both houses in an attempt to form a new coalition that could command a majority in each.

Some opponents might abstain though, rather than vote again the government, for fear of creating damaging political confusion at a time of financial crisis.

One possibility is that a less contentious member of the government, such as the Economics Minister, Giulio Tremonti, would temporarily take the reins, possibly under a government of national unity. This would likely change the controversial electoral system and aim to keep a firm grip on Italy's public finances.



James Walston, politics professor of the American University in Rome, predicted that events would pave the way for March elections. "If no one can form a government in a few days, the most likely scenario is that early elections will be called," he said. "The bookmakers' favourite date is 27 March. Unless something dramatic happens over the next few days, I would put my money on that outcome as well."

Mr Berlusconi could in theory make a return in spring elections, but with his popularity at an all-time low, and his health said to be failing, his hold on Italian politics is looking weaker all the time.

There has even been talk of the Prime Minister packing his bags and repertoire of crass jokes and setting up camp in the foreign ministry in the unlikely role of Italy's most senior diplomat. By retaining a ministerial role, Mr Berlusconi would still be shielded from corruption charges.

In a television interview on the Rai Tre channel, Mr Fini mocked the Prime Minister. "Mr Berlusconi doesn't want to govern, he only wants to stay in Palazzo Chigi [the premier's official residence]. And more than that, he wants to stay while there's the legitimate impediment that's vital for him to avoid the trials," he said.

The Prime Minister will have been buoyed by news on Friday that the Constitutional Court has postponed until the new year its verdict on the constitutionality of the "legitimate impediment law" that allows serving ministers to avoid court appearances. The decision had been due on the same day as the confidence votes. The newly elected Constitutional Court president, Ugo De Siervo, said the judges needed to examine the matter "in a more tranquil atmosphere".

Suggestions of corruption have even tainted tomorrow's confidence vote. The parliamentary anti-corruption campaigner Antonio Di Pietro has claimed there have been attempts to buy some wavering MPs with financial inducements and lucrative job offers, which amounted to "criminally significant acts" that "should never occur in a civilised country''.

The government has denied the allegations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Porter / Concierge

£16000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks