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PdL doves may snub showdown with Berlusconi loyalists

Says PdL will be worse off if Letta govt falls

13 November, 16:56
PdL doves may snub showdown with Berlusconi loyalists (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, November 13 - Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano hinted Wednesday that pro-government doves in Silvio Berlusconi's divided People of Freedom (PdL) party may desert the group's national assembly on Saturday.

The meeting has been called to make it possible for the party to be replaced with a new group taking its former name, Forza Italia (FI). But it may see the party split between doves like Alfano and Berlusconi loyalists, or hawks, who are in favour of breaking off the government alliance with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) if the centre-right leader is ejected from parliament.

The PD, Premier Enrico Letta's party, has supported a drive for Berlusconi to be stripped of his Senate seat after the supreme court upheld a tax-fraud conviction against the 77-year-old media magnate, making it definitive. A vote on the floor of the Senate is scheduled for November 27. Alfano, who led a PdL rebellion that forced Berlusconi to back down on a bid to scupper Letta's grand-coalition government last month, suggested the doves will only attend if they know they will have the chance to have their say.

According to some reports, no debate will be allowed at Saturday's meeting, only Berlusconi will speak and the only motion to be voted on will be one prepared by the hawks.

"We are all very well aware of how much Berlusconi wanted this move from PdL to FI, so it's in no one's interest to go there and spoil the party," Alfano said.

"We are hopeful that there will be the right conditions for us to be able to go there together to make a single choice that we agree on centred on Berlusconi". Alfano has called on Berlusconi to continue to support Letta's government, which was cobbled together by traditional foes in the PdL and PD in April to end the deadlock after February's inconclusive general election, even if he is ejected from the Senate.

The three-time premier has knocked this back, saying it would be unthinkable for his party to cooperate with the PD if it commits "political homicide" by getting him stripped of his seat.

Berlusconi has also warned the doves that they risked political oblivion if they break away from the rest of the party.

But Alfano stuck to his guns, saying PdL-Forza Italia will not benefit if Letta's government falls and fresh elections are called, in part because Berlusconi would be ineligible to stand after his tax-fraud conviction.

"In any case it would be worse because we'd end up with a left-left government alliance with positions that are the opposite of the PdL's," said Alfano, apparently referring to the possibility of the PD forming a government alliance with rebel lawmakers from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S).

"Or we'd go to elections without our champion, Silvio Berlusconi, who could not stand as a candidate".

Letta has said it would be senseless for Berlusconi to torpedo his government as fresh elections would probably produce another inconclusive outcome and another grand coalition unless the current widely criticised election law is changed.

Many experts think Letta would be able to keep his government afloat with the support of PdL rebels if Berlusconi tried to torpedo it again.

Alfano, meanwhile, continued to come under heavy fire from PdL hawks Wednesday.

"The time of hypocrisy, with sweet words for Berlusconi and hostile acts against him, must end," said the hawks' leader, PdL MP Raffaele Fitto.

The doves and hawks both believe that Berlusconi is the victim of a campaign of persecution by left-wing judges who are trying to wipe him off the political scene.

But the doves do not think the party should sink the government over Berlusconi's legal problems, as the country struggles to emerge from its longest recession in over two decades.

A senior dove, the PdL's former House Whip Fabrizio Cicchitto, said Wednesday that the national assembly should be cancelled in order to avoid an inevitable clash between the two sides of the party.

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