Italy Crisis: Berlusconi backs down on confidence vote

Ex-Prime Minister says he will now support the government having failed to gain the backing of his own party

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The Independent Online

Media mogul and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has announced an embarrassing U-turn on his plans to dismantle the Italian government, saying his party will back the coalition of incumbent premier Enrico Letta in an upcoming vote of confidence.

Speaking briefly to a shocked Senate in Rome, Mr Berlusconi said: “Italy needs a government that can produce structural and institutional reforms. We have decided, not without internal strife, to back the confidence vote.”

It is a dramatic climbdown from Mr Berlusconi, who on the weekend pulled five of his Minsters out of the cabinet in an attempt to sabotage government stability and trigger snap elections in the country.

But it became clear Mr Berlusconi’s coup was ill-conceived after rebels within the ex-Prime Minister’s party made themselves known.

Senior allies in the past – including Angelino Alfa, the man seen as Mr Berlusconi’s political heir - made it clear that they would flout the ex-Prime Minster’s wishes, and vote instead for Mr Letta and the stability of government.

After inconclusive elections in February and a two-month political deadlock, a grand coalition was formed in April between Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s centre left Democratic party and Mr Berlusconi’s centre right People of Freedom party.

But the union has not been a happy one, with many dissatisfied that Mr Berlusconi’s legal problems have at times threatened to overshadow the debt-ridden country’s severe economic problems.

In August Italy’s high court upheld a tax fraud conviction against Mr Berlusconi, who faces a four year prison sentence.

Addressing the senate ahead of the vote of confidence, Mr Letta told Italian MPs they had a duty to keep Italy’s government on an even keel given the country’s fiscal woes.

He said: “Give us your confidence to realize these objectives. Give us your confidence for all that has been accomplished. A confidence vote that isn't against anyone, but a confidence vote for Italy and Italians.

Addressing the civil disorder that has characterised Italian politics in recent years, Mr Letta said: ”The majority of Italians are telling us - I should say they are yelling at us - that they can't take any more of these scenes of bloodshed in the political arena, and (politicians) who fight over everything but nothing ever changes,“ he said.

The August upholding of the Mr Berlusconi’s four-year prison sentence was the billionaire media tycoon’s first definitive conviction in up to 30 court cases.