Endangered Letta govt set for confidence votes
Coalition admin on brink after Berlusconi's party quit threat27 September, 20:54
Letta had an emergency meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday and a statement from the head of state's office said the two men had agreed that the premier should seek to establish whether he has the support to continue at a cabinet meeting later in the day and "successively - soon - in parliament".
The confidence votes will probably take place Monday or Tuesday because the premier and president agreed the government "can't go on like this", ANSA sources said. Most members of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party wrote out their resignations from parliament Thursday in a row over a move to eject the three-time premier from parliament.
They have said they will hand them in if Berlusconi is stripped of his seat in the Senate after the supreme court upheld a tax-fraud conviction against the media magnate last month, making it definitive. Letta, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), needs the PdL's support to keep his government afloat.
Earlier on Friday Letta told the heads of the parties sustaining his government that he wants clarification in parliament on whether they will continue to support it and he will accept "no ifs, no buts", government sources said. The administration has been fragile ever since the PD and PdL formed an unnatural alliance in April to end two months of political deadlock after February's general election failed to produce a clear winner. But the tension has frequently come close to spilling over after the supreme court upheld a four-year conviction against Berlusconi for tax fraud at his Media empire - three years of which have been commuted because of an amnesty. Only last week Berlusconi pulled back from a threat to sink the government just before the PD voted against a report presented to a Senate panel that argued the ex-premier should be allowed to keep his seat.
Napolitano and Letta both blasted the PD's quit threat, with the president calling it "disturbing" and the premier describing it as a "humiliation" for Italy while he was representing the country overseas. Among the party leaders Letta met on Friday was Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who is also the PdL secretary.
After that meeting Alfano went to report to Berlusconi, who is furious that his foes-turned-alliance-partners in the PD are intent on voting in favour of him being ejected from parliament. Letta also had talks with his uncle, Gianni Letta, who sits on the other side of Italy's political spectrum and is one of Berlusconi's closest aides.
The government ministers belonging to the PD decided Friday that they will not continue in Letta's executive unless the PdL party clearly expresses its backing for the executive.
The PdL ministers, meanwhile, said they could only stay aboard if the government clarified its stance on justice reform.
The PdL claims Berlusconi is the victim of persecution from left-wing elements in the judiciary who want to wipe him from the political arena via the courts. They also argue the 2012 anti-corruption law under which Berlusconi risks losing his parliamentary seat is unconstitutional and is being applied retroactively in this case. Not all PdL politicians want to bring down the government, however, and some have indicated they would vote to support it while continuing to press for retention of Berlusconi's seat. Others have said the unprecedented left-right reform government iss "finished". Italy's trade unions and business associations both said a government crisis was the last thing Italy needs just as it looks about to emerge from its longest recession in over two decades.
Giorgio Squinzi, the head of industrial employers' confederation Confindustria, said it would be "crazy".
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also said Friday that "the tensions within the (government) coalition are evident and they represent a risk to the economic outlook".
Before meeting Letta, Napolitano appeared to hint that he will try not to call snap elections if the government falls. If the PdL members carry through on their threat, they will probably demand Napolitano dissolve parliament and call early elections. But the head of State, who was instrumental in orchestrating the formation of Letta's government, has always said he is against calling new elections. Indeed, he threatened he would resign if the parties failed to act "responsibly", when he reluctantly agreed to be re-elected president in April after lawmakers were unable to agree on a successor to him. If this happened, parliament and representatives of Italy's regional governments would have to elect a new head of State before parliament could be dissolved. Napolitano called the early end of parliamentary terms due to political crises "a very Italian practice" - a comment which was interpreted as meaning this was a bad habit that the country needs to kick. If the PdL pulls out of government, the PD could try to form an alternative alliance, although the other big group in parliament, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), has repeatedly said it is not willing to join a coalition with it.