Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly withstood a vote of no confidence Tuesday, with 314 representatives in the lower chamber of deputies voting against a motion to remove him and 311 voting to collapse his government. Two lawmakers abstained, and Berlusconi no longer holds an absolute majority in the 630-member house.
But his center-right coalition -- for now -- can remain in place.
"You, prime minister, are no longer in a position to govern," said opposition leader Luigi Bersani after the results were announced on Tuesday, and some members of Berlusconi's People of Liberty party (PdL) seemed to agree. They indicated that his coalition will have to compromise with opponents in parliament to shore up support, or else resign and call elections for 2011, two years ahead of schedule.
Scandals and Fistfights
The no-confidence vote followed a year of sex and corruption scandals for the Italian leader. It also coincided with street demonstrations throughout Italy by students and workers protesting the government's budget cuts. Riot police in Rome closed the streets around parliament, and a scuffle even broke out on the chamber floor when one opposition lawmaker, Katia Polidori, announced her support for Berlusconi against the wishes of her party, Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI). Gianfranco Fini, a onetime ally of Berlusconi's, founded FLI after breaking with Berlusconi in July.
Fini is a former neo-fascist who has re-cast himself as a moderate. His departure from PdL in the summer left Berlusconi without a majority in the lower house. In November, Fini resigned from the government entirely, taking four officials with him. With the newly-founded FLI he led this week's no-confidence motion, which was widely expected to succeed.
Berlusconi survived a similar vote in the Italian Senate earlier on Tuesday, but his coalition holds a comfortable majority there. The vote in the Chamber of Deputies, by contrast, was preceded by days of political dealmaking, accusations of vote-buying, and even health updates on three pregnant deputies, who had promised to oppose Berlusconi but were at risk of going into labor.
The prime minister, now 74, has led Italy off and on since 1994. In the notoriously unstable world of Italian politics he's considered an escape artist, trailing personal and political scandals. He defended himself in speeches to both houses Monday, arguing that Italy needed "stability" during the ongoing euro crisis.
When the final vote tally was announced in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday, his supporters applauded, and Berlusconi himself reportedly blurted, "Tutto bene!" ("Okay!")
msm, with wires
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