It is now looking increasingly likely that Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy, will be forced to step down.
He was already on the ropes, with a crucial budget vote this afternoon. But now one of his closest allies, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, has given what some see as the final knock-out blow.
Bossi 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 he let it be known that the Northern League supports the secretary of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, Angelino Alfano, to become prime minister.
If Berlusconi loses the vote today, he could either resign immediately, or face a an almost certain confidence vote. However many observers believe that Berlusconi should survive Tuesday’s finance vote in parliament as the opposition plans to abstain, in order to highlight the premier’s lack of support.
Berlusconi has remained defiant until now, despite mass speculation of his pending resignation causing huge swings in the Milan stock market on Monday.
But there was more bad news for him as the cost of Italy’s borrowing jumped to a new record on Tuesday morning, ahead of the vote.
Maurizio Caprara, the political correspondent for Italy’s Corriere Della Sera newspaper, said: “Of course there is a link between his political instability and market instability. Of course, I don’t think that politics have to follow the markets, but in this case we have to defend the euro and defend our nation. So it would be better to have a government capable of taking decisions, and to govern. Until we have exactly that result, the situation will be a little bit difficult.”
As the debt worries of the euro zone’s third largest economy approach a level seen as unsustainable, posing a huge threat in the wider crisis, many across the world will have their eyes firmly fixed on the outcome of this vote.