Letta government wins vote after Berlusconi's U-turn

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Faces revolt after decision to withdraw support

Silvio Berlusconi during a confidence vote at the Senate in Rome on Wednesday.— Photo: Reuters
Silvio Berlusconi during a confidence vote at the Senate in Rome on Wednesday.— Photo: Reuters

Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday abandoned his bid to topple the government, voting for a confidence vote in a humiliating climbdown after key allies rebelled against his leadership. Following this, Prime Minister Encirco Letta, tipped to win with just a handful of votes earlier, ended up sweeping the vote with a crushing majority of 235 Senators in favour and 70 against.

“We have decided to vote for confidence, not without internal disputes,” Mr. Berlusconi said before the vote in Parliament. He said he had changed his mind after hearing Mr. Letta’s promise to lower taxes and be mindful of the need for reforms.

Mr. Letta shook his head as Mr. Berlusconi was speaking and the address was followed by stunned silence.

Mr. Letta had earlier asked lawmakers to vote for him, saying Italians were tired of “blood in the arena”.

Several key figures from Mr. Berlusconi’s PDL broke ranks with the billionaire media mogul after his decision to call time on the government and pull his Ministers from the Cabinet last weekend.

A letter doing the rounds in the Senate just before Mr. Berlusconi spoke had 23 signatures of PDL Senators willing to defy their leader.

Together with votes from four rebels of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, this would have been sufficient for Mr. Letta to win a majority even without Mr. Berlusconi’s support.

It was not immediately clear whether the divisions inside the centre-right would be formalised with rebel lawmakers setting up their own political party or parliamentary grouping or whether differences with Mr. Berlusconi could be healed.

“Italians are crying out that they cannot take any more blood in the arena, with politicians who slit each other’s throats and then nothing changes,” said Mr. Letta (47) a moderate leftist.

Financial analyst Christian Schulz from Berenberg Bank said a Letta victory “would be a confidence boost for Italy and the eurozone”.

But analysts warn recession-hit Italy’s fiscal policy targets were still at risk and the political drama could delay the 2014 budget.

The country is suffering the longest downturn since World War II and is struggling to meet a public deficit target of 2.9 per cent for this year — below the EU-mandated three per cent.

The jobless rate has also returned to a record high of 12.2 per cent, with youth unemployment also at its highest ever level of 40.1 per cent. — AFP



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