ROME—Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi pledged on Saturday to put his government to a make-or-break confidence vote to see if his weakened coalition still has enough support in Parliament to survive.
Berlusconi wrote to the presidents of the Senate and the lower Chamber of Deputies saying he decided to seek the crucial vote in view of the planned pullout next week from his Cabinet of ministers loyal to breakaway ally Gianfranco Fini.
If Berlusconi loses a confidence vote, he must resign. If the center-right leader can’t assemble another government, President Giorgio Napolitano can call early elections, widely expected to be held early next spring.
But the premier insisted that before he puts his government’s survival on the line, Parliament must first pass legislation providing for Italy’s national budget. Lawmakers have been trying for weeks to come up with budget cuts all the while worried voters will punish them at the polls if elections come soon.
No date was set for the confidence votes. It is not clear when the budget will be approved.
By resorting to confidence votes, “the government intends to verify if it still enjoys the backing of the Senate, and immediately afterward, that of the Chamber of Deputies,” Berlusconi wrote.
Fini, who is Chamber president and co-founder with Berlusconi of the main coalition People of Freedom party, has demanded Berlusconi’s resignation.
Berlusconi swept to victory in 2008 parliamentary elections that gave him comfortable margins in the legislative chambers. But his nasty feuding with Fini, over what the Chamber leader has complained is Berlusconi’s too-strong hand in controlling the party, rocked the coalition.
Napolitano voiced approval Saturday of Berlusconi’s plan to wait for budget passage and then seek the confidence vote before dealing with what the presidential palace called the “political crisis.”
Fini’s followers backed Berlusconi in a confidence vote in late September, temporarily staving off the prospect of early elections. The premier won with a pitch for support to avoid political instability at a time of global financial woes.
In seeking a confidence vote now, Berlusconi might be gambling that centrists now outside his coalition could be tempted to join a new government headed by him in return for important Cabinet posts.
“I’m more optimistic than before” about the government’s survival, said Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a leader of Berlusconi’s main coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League.
Berlusconi is intent on passing a justice reform law that critics say is tailored-designed to help him in judicial troubles stemming from the billionaire’s media empire.
Besides betrayal by allies, the 74-year-old Berlusconi has been stung by allegations of involvement with prostitutes and with a 17-year-old Moroccan girl who was among many young women invited to soirees at his private residences.
On Friday, Italy’s center-left opposition, so far unable to capitalize on Berlusconi’s setbacks, presented a no-confidence motion against the premier. No date was set for debate on that motion.