Letta's end-of-Berlusconi-era jibe raises tension
Alfano says centre right won't accept 'interference'07 October, 20:16
(ANSA) - Rome, October 7 - Centre-left Democratic Party (PD) Italian Premier Enrico Letta raised hackles among his centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party government allies by calling time on the era of the centre right's charismatic leader, Silvio Berlusconi, after an unprecedented mutiny over a confidence vote last week. The premier's declaration that the PdL rebellion meant Berlusconi's iron grip over Italy's conservatives had been loosened caused the PdL to rally behind their leader, with even the leader of the rebels, Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, saying three-time premier and media tycoon Berlusconi was still their figurehead. Various PdL figures, including Alfano, told Letta to butt out of the centre right's business after declaring Berlusconi's two-decade dominance of Italian politics over at the weekend.
Letta said Sunday the internal PdL rebellion which scuppered the ex-premier's bid to sink the government, "closed a 20-year political season".
But Alfano, who is the PdL secretary and disobeyed his patron for the first time to lead the rebellion, said Letta should keep such considerations to his own side of the political spectrum.
"We don't accept and we will not accept interference in the free debate within our political movement," Alfano said, adding that this went for anyone, the "premier included".
"Berlusconi remains our reference point".
PdL Senate Whip Renato Schifani said: "This film about a split is totally surreal because Berlusconi remains the centre right's leader".
But the PdL is still reportedly in danger of splitting after moderates led by Alfano forced Berlusconi to make an embarrassing U-turn on Wednesday and tell his lawmakers to vote in favour of a confidence motion in Letta's grand-coalition government.
However, any formal split has been put on ice for now as the PdL's Berlusconi-loyalist hawks and the pro-government doves are seeking to draw back from the brink of splitting a party whose standing in the polls has been badly hurt by the first successful challenge to Berlusconi's rule.
Just four days before the confidence vote, Berlusconi had ordered the PdL's ministers to quit the executive and called for fresh elections.
The political turmoil erupted in the fallout of the supreme court's decision in August to uphold a tax-fraud verdict against the three-time premier.
Berlusconi and the PdL hawks are furious that their foes-turned-alliance partners in the PD are supporting a move for him to be stripped of his parliamentary seat because of the conviction with a vote on the floor of the Upper House expected later this month.
But moderates like Alfano, while sympathising with Berlusconi, were unhappy about sinking the left-right government and causing economic and financial turbulence just as Italy looks set to emerge from its longest recession in over two decades.
The rebel PdL lawmakers had looked set to form a splinter group even though Berlusconi backed down over the confidence vote, but the split has been put on hold for peace talks.
With Berlusconi facing a year in community service and possible arrest if convictions for sex with an underage prostitute and publishing an illegal wiretap are upheld, the PdL doves have been calling for a party conference to agree on his successor.
But the hawks are resisting the calls and have insisted the 77-year-old patriarch, despite his political ban, is still the only man capable of standing up to the centre left in the next elections, which have now retreated on most analysts' horizons until at least a year in the future.
The PD is likely to be led in those elections by telegenic Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, who has been likened to Tony Blair and has not real rivals in a leadership contest next month.
But if Letta builds on the popularity he achieved in standing up to the PdL and sparking its quasi-split, he might become a contender, analysts say.