ROME: Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta warned lawmakers ahead of a crucial vote of confidence on Wednesday that the country ran a “fatal” risk as Silvio Berlusconi tries to topple his government.
“Italy runs a risk that could be a fatal risk. Seizing this moment or not depends on us, on a yes or a no,” Letta said in his address to the Senate.
Letta’s survival hinges on rebels within Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom party (PDL), who are considering splitting from the media mogul after he called time on the government and pulled his ministers from the cabinet.
“Italians are crying out that they cannot take any more blood and arena, with politicians who slit each other’s throats and then nothing changes,” said Letta, who must clinch the vote to defeat Berlusconi and keep his coalition government alive.
The billionaire tycoon has called for his party to vote against the motion of confidence in the government.
“Despite the risks, I have decided to put an end to the Letta government,” Berlusconi said in a letter to Tempi magazine published on Tuesday, in which he blamed Letta and Italy’s president for not protecting him from his legal woes.
But he was left on the back foot on the eve of the vote after his chief protégé—Interior Minister Angelino Alfano—said he was “firmly convinced that our party as a whole should vote confidence.”
Tensions within the country’s uneasy coalition have spiked since Italy’s top court upheld a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi in August and calls from his allies for a pardon from President Giorgio Napolitano fell on deaf ears.
“In a democratic state, all sentences must be respected,” Letta told lawmakers in the Senate in a clear reference to his rival’s legal woes.
Despite fears that political instability could undermine efforts by the eurozone’s third-largest economy to rein in its budget deficit, the three-time former premier has called for fresh elections.
Senior party figures have said 40 PDL senators are ready to vote for the government, which would hand Letta the overall majority he needs.
The premier holds a comfortable majority in the lower house but is only sure of 137 votes from his own Democratic Party (PD) and centrist allies in the Senate—meaning he needs at least 24 extra to secure the 161-seat majority there.
He may be able to count on a few votes from opposition parties such as the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, but has sworn not to limp on without strong enough support to implement much-needed economic and structural reforms.
The confidence vote will be held after Letta’s address, followed later in the day by a vote in the Chamber of Deputies lower house.