The man at the centre of a row which is threatening to bring down the Italian government is defying calls for him to resign as speaker of the lower house of parliament.
Gianfranco Fini told a press conference it is vital he stays in the role.
“Obviously,” he said. “I will not offer my resignation as everyone knows the speaker must ensure unbiased compliance with the constitution and the impartial conduct of the activities of the house, and not just serve the interests of the majority who elected him.”
Analysts are interpreting Fini’s comments as a challenge to the prime minister and his ruling People of Freedom Party – of which Fini was the co-founder with Silvio Berlusconi.
Fini was called on to step down after being expelled by the party for what it described as “insurmountable political differences”.
Morality and legality in politics have been a recurring theme of Fini’s criticism of Berlusconi.
In an ill-disguised attack on the prime minister Fini has said politicians implicated in court cases should resign. He also forced amendments to a bill aimed at restricting press reports of wiretap transcripts in judicial investigations.
Berlusconi has repeatedly faced trial on a variety of corruption charges which he has always vehemently denied and he has subsequently been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Fini warned Berlusconi that from now on, his allies in parliament would “loyally support the governnment every time it acts within the framework of the electoral programme, but will not hesitate to fight proposals that are unfair or damaging to the wider interest”.