Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has faced the Italian Senate asking it to back him or sack him and his coalition government. He spoke ahead of a confidence vote, the loss of which he warned would threaten vital reforms.
It is a showdown between a young leader and a veteran political wrangler – media tycoon, billionaire and convicted tax fraudster Silvio Berlusconi.
He ordered his ministers out of the ruling coalition, forcing this crisis. But in a dramatic move several senior figures in the party he created have threatened to defy him. In all there are doubts over the votes of some 40 People of Freedom party (PdL) MPs.
All this comes against a background of ongoing crisis in Italy, which is struggling to exit the longest recession in decades.
Letta’s speech ahead of the vote defended his policies and laid out a path he said would show the world Italy was serious about getting back on track. “Italy is running a fatal risk that depends on a yes or a no”, he said.
Former Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi, who handed in their resignations on Berlusconi’s
orders on Saturday, called on the PdL to back Letta in the Senate vote. A vote in Italy’s lower house follows this afternoon.
Will the rebels put up or shut up? Experts in Italian politics say never assume anything, and even if Letta gets his yes vote, what price will he have to pay? For Berlusconi it appears to be one minute to midnight; on Friday he faces a Senate Committee vote on whether to strip him of his seat, effectively kicking him out of parliament.
He says his withdrawal of support for the coalition was over a rise in sales tax. But critics accuse him of putting his own interests before those of the country.
The turmoil in Italy is being closely watched by Rome’s international partners. After Monday jitters the stock market jumped on Tuesday amid reports the government might survive.
For Letta this Wednesday represents a battle he must not merely carry; he wants a mandate to help win support for painful reforms.
Letta’s coalition is only 7 months old and many believe elections now would be an indulgence Italy can ill-afford.