Skip to main content

Italy: Enrico Letta survives confidence vote after Berlusconi backtracks

By Ben Wedeman. Hada Messia and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Wed October 2, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prime Minister Enrico Letta handily wins a confidence vote in the Italian Senate
  • He is also expected to win a confidence vote in the lower house of Parliament
  • Silvio Berlusconi drops a bid to topple the government, says his party backs Letta
  • Berlusconi could lose his Senate seat after a conviction for tax fraud was upheld

Rome (CNN) -- Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition government survived a confidence vote Wednesday by a healthy margin, with 235 senators voting in favor to 70 against.

The threat receded shortly before the vote when former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi unexpectedly dropped his bid to topple the government, saying his party's lawmakers would support the motion.

Berlusconi's move came after members of his center-right People of Freedom Party signaled they would defy his orders and back the government.

The lower house of parliament is still scheduled to vote on a motion of confidence in Letta's government later Wednesday. However, the prime minister has a majority in that chamber and is not in serious danger of losing the vote.

Before the senators voted, Letta, of the center-left Democratic Party, appealed for their backing, warning that Italy faced a "fatal" risk with the confidence vote.

Amanpour: Berlusconi turns Italy into a political circus

Letta, who took office five months ago, argued that the country needs political stability to help its recovery from its economic woes.

"A government and political crisis would only mean more economic difficulties," he told lawmakers. "It means not going through with the reforms needed to boost the economy and help the unemployed and the country. It means that the rest of Europe still looks at us as 'the unfixable' messy country."

The crisis was triggered when Berlusconi on Saturday ordered ministers from his party to pull out of the fragile coalition government.

But the former prime minister's political gamble appears to have divided his own party, resulting in his sudden climbdown. Italian news agency Ansa had earlier cited People of Freedom Party member Carlo Giovanardi as saying that more than 40 center-right lawmakers were willing to back Letta's government.

Disfunctional govt. the norm in Italy
Italy's political crisis

Observers speculate that the reported fracturing within Berlusconi's party could be the beginning of the end of his checkered political career.

"I definitely do not believe that this time around Mister Berlusconi can escape his fate," Former Prime Minister Mario Monti told CNN's Christiane Amanpour Wednesday from Rome. "He has been pronounced defeated and out of politics many, many times in the past. He has given proof of an incredible resilience, but I believe this time he will not."

A look at the life of Silvio Berlusconi

On Friday, Berlusconi will be the subject of a parliamentary committee that will consider whether he should lose his Senate seat after a conviction for tax fraud was upheld by Italy's supreme court two months ago. He has insisted the prosecutions against him are politically motivated.

In an apparent reference to Berlusconi's legal difficulties, Letta told senators Wednesday that they must make a distinction between the judicial troubles of Berlusconi, or any other member of parliament, and the job of the executive.

Letta said reforms to pull Italy out of recession must continue, and that political stability is the key to boosting growth and creating more jobs. Italians want to see their elected representatives govern, not indulge in political drama, he said.

He appealed to the Senate to have the courage and strength to back the confidence motion, for the sake of the country.

The formation of the coalition government in April ended weeks of uncertainty following inconclusive elections in February.

Berlusconi, who served on and off as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, has dominated the lively history of Italian politics for the past two decades.

For years, he has also been entangled in fraud, corruption and sex scandals that have often reached the Italian courts.

He is currently appealing a prison sentence handed down in June for abuse of power and having sex with an underage prostitute.

CNN's Ben Wedeman and Hada Messia reported from Rome and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
updated 8:02 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about the delicate business of trying to get a hostage home alive.
updated 10:23 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The accidental killing of a gun instructor raises an "absurd question," writes Mel Robbins.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
ISIS has made surprise gains in Iraq and Syria in recent months, but may begin to suffer setbacks on the battlefield.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
The fear of Russian invasion is receding but peace may still be tricky to find.
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
updated 4:15 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
updated 5:57 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The signs exist that indicate U.S. airstrikes into Syria are on the way.
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT