It is now looking increasingly likely that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi will be forced to step down.
He appears to have lost his majority in parliament following a vote on public accounts. Berlusconi managed to pass the finance vote with 308 votes out of a total of 630, but the opposition – as well as some members of Berlusconi’s own coalition – abstained from voting.
He would have needed 316 votes to keep his majority and it is likely his opponents will now call a confidence vote. If the results of Tuesday’s ballot are repeated, he will lose.
Earlier in the day, one of Berlusconi’s closest and most important political allies joined the growing clamour of calls for him to resign. Umberto Bossi, head of the Berlusconi’s coalition partners the Northern League was caught by journalists ahead of the vote, where he was asked if he wanted Berlusconi to step down.
“We are asking him to step aside,” he replied.
The journalist then asked “So what is going to happen?”
“Nothing will happen today,” he said.
Later in the exchange Bossi let it be known that the Northern League supports the secretary of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, Angelino Alfano, to become prime minister.
After Tuesday’s hollow victory in parliament, Berlusconi could either resign immediately or face a confidence vote that he will struggle to win. Alternatively, Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano could ask for his resignation, thus effectively forcing Berlusconi to stand down. Italy’s defence minister said shortly after the vote that Berlusconi had already left parliament to consult Napolitano.
Berlusconi has remained defiant until now, despite mass speculation of his pending resignation causing huge swings in the Milan stock market on Monday.
Adding to the bad news for Berlusconi and the Italian economy on Tuesday was a new record cost of borrowing for the country.
Hollow victory pushes Berlusconi towards the exit door