After only five months in power Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called Sunday for a vote of confidence to take place Wednesday after his party’s relations with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party sank to a new low.
But President Giorgio Napolitano said a snap general election would only be called as a last resort.
“Tradition and constitutional obligations dictate that the president of the republic dissolve parliament only when there is no possibility of forming a majority (in parliament),” Napolitano said during a visit to Naples.
The crisis follows weeks of strife between Berlusconi’s party and Letta’s Democratic Party (PD) culminating Saturday when five cabinet ministers from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party said they would quit, potentially causing the collapse of Letta’s grand coalition government.
Napolitano and Letta met on Sunday evening to consult over the next steps, agreeing that the parliament should decide the political future of Italy. That is the place where a declaration to dissolve the government should take place, a Napolitano statement said.
Letta announced the vote of confidence, saying: “We have assessed a very complicated and complex situation and have decided to go to parliament as soon as possible. I do not intend to govern at any price.” If he fails to win the vote of confidence, he would face the consequences, but he wants to know whether his policies have the backing of parliament after the Berlusconi ministers’ threatened departure.
PD party leader Guglielmo Epifani called the PDL announcement the final act before the collapse of the government. The two parties blame each other for the apparent failure of their grand coalition.
The Berlusconi ministers have said the conditions necessary for them to remain in the government no longer exist.
“My loyalty to Berlusconi is life-long and dead certain,” Alfano declared.
Berlusconi’s supporters have demanded that the legislature find some way to nullify a guilty verdict for Berlusconi in a tax fraud case that would bar him from future public office.
But the official reason given by Berlusconi for seeking to cut short the legislature is a planned hike in value added tax.
“We will not accept responsibility for an increase in taxes,” Berlusconi said by telephone to his supporters gathered in Naples.
“My personal vicissitudes have nothing to do with this,” he went on to say, adding that he was certain of winning elections that should be held “as soon as possible.” A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on October 4 on the question of stripping the 77-year-old scandal-tainted politician of his seat.
Should Berlusconi supporters leave the government, Napolitano could tap Letta or another politician to create a new majority for a transitional government.
He has been against dissolving parliament because new elections could again deliver another hung parliament, as was the case in February elections that brought about the present grand coalition.
In addition to Berlusconi’s PDL and Letta’s PD, the current government is backed by a small centrist group linked to former premier Mario Monti.