Domenico Siniscalco’s departure from the economy ministry comes at the worst possible moment for Silvio Berlusconi. His government is due to present its annual budget next week, and in a few months he faces a general election, which he is widely expected to lose.He has refrained from asking Fazio to stand down because the central banker, who holds his job for life, is backed by the Northern League, his most loyal coalition partner. But Italian media say that with the departure of Siniscalco, a respected non-party economist, Berlusconi’s government may be close to collapse. It has already been undermined by bitter factional infighting. There have already been calls for the government to resign to pave the way for immediate elections. Meanwhile, analysts fear Berlusconi may push through a voter-friendly budget despite weak public finances and a growing deficit. Coalition members fear that a more rigorous budget might scupper any remaining chances they have of holding on to power.