Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday survived yet another no-confidence vote in Parliament. He won by a wafer thin margin of three votes — two of them from the newly-formed “Future and Liberty” party of his arch political rival Gianfranco Fini. It was Mr. Fini's decision to pull out of Mr. Berlusconi's tripartite right-wing coalition that caused the crisis.
With anti-Berlusconi rallies taking place across the country, the vote was held in a heavily guarded Parliament chamber with a siege-like atmosphere. There was much shouting and screaming and thumping of desks. Three heavily pregnant deputies, each of whom had been courted by the Berlusconi camp, vowed to be in Parliament and cast their votes against the government. Earlier in the day, Mr. Berlusconi had more easily carried the confidence vote in the Upper House or Senate. Newspapers widely reported that Mr. Berlusconi, Italy's richest man, bought up several opposition MPs, even going so far as to pay off their housing loans.
Mr. Berlusconi may have survived this vote but it is not clear how long he will be able to cling to power. His surviving coalition partner, the xenophobic and anti-immigrant Northern League, has already indicated that it will be difficult for the Prime Minister to push through legislation with a razor thin majority of just three votes. It is quite likely that a repeat of Tuesday's scenario will take place in a couple of weeks' time.
There was high drama in the House just ahead of the vote. The three pregnants vowed to be present in the House to vote against the Prime minister. “Unless my water breaks now, I shall be in the chamber on time,” Federica Mogherini, a member of the Opposition Democratic Party, was quoted as saying. The second, Giulia Cosenza, arrived in an ambulance. The third, Giulia Bongiorno, arrived in a wheelchair.
But for all that, Mr. Berlusconi survived the vote. The opposition is so deeply divided that no one wants to go to the polls immediately. Economically too, Italy is in a precarious position and cannot afford to hold elections in the near future. The real questions will now be faced by Gianfranco Fini, who had been hoping to succeed Mr. Berlusconi as the head of Italy. He has been betrayed by members of his own party who allowed Mr. Berlusconi's survival. Most Italians are disgusted by the spectacle of corruption and mismanagement their leaders have offered them. Mr. Berlusconi has been cited in scandal after scandal involving minor girls and prostitutes. The Vatican has taken a strong stand against him. But most Italians appear to be happy to bumble along with an inept government. U.S. diplomats in a leaked Wikileaks cable described Mr. Berlusconi as “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”. The Italians appear not to care.