Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Berlusconi faces confidence vote

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi appeals to lawmakers to support his government in a confidence vote (AP)

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is fighting for his political survival on the eve of a confidence vote in parliament which could force him out of office.

He told parliament that his government is the only credible alternative to help guide the country through the growing sovereign debt crisis.

Mr Berlusconi's three and a half year old government faces the key vote on Friday that will test if the premier retains a majority in Parliament. If the vote fails, Mr Berlusconi must step down.

The crisis was provoked when lawmakers this week blocked routine legislation, which prompted opposition lawmakers to demand his immediate resignation and the country's ceremonial president to urge the Italian leader to prove his government still retained majority support.

Mr Berlusconi made clear in his 15-minute address that he has no intention of stepping down - and that if he loses the only alternative is new elections, not a technical government as some have proposed.

"The government asks for a confirmation of confidence because it is deeply aware of the risks facing the country and because the deadlines imposed by the markets are not compatible with those of certain political rituals," he said.

Mr Berlusconi has steadfastly resisted calls for new elections as his leadership has been weakened by personal scandals, trials and Italy's increasingly precarious financial position. Three ratings agencies have downgraded Italy's public debt, one of the highest in the eurozone nearing 120% of gross domestic product, citing political gridlock as a key reason.

Mr Berlusconi's coalition partner, the Northern League, has indicated only grudging support for the leader, saying publicly that it is not sure he will complete his mandate in 2013.

The confidence vote comes at a crucial moment for Italy, which is under pressure to come up with growth-promoting measures to avert being dragged into the widening sovereign debt crisis.

Addressing lawmakers, Mr Berlusconi argued that only a democratically elected government enjoyed the support to make the painful but necessary decisions to stabilise Italy's finances.

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