My indecision is final: Berlusconi (finally) backs Letta coalition
Former Italiam prime minister lives to fight another day
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister, speaks on a mobile phone after listening to the results during a parliamentary session inside the Senate, the upper house of parliament, in Rome today. Photograph: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg
It is now official, signed and sealed. Italian political life is a very grave matter, but not a remotely serious one. At the end of a Kafkaesque morning in the Senate today, the Enrico Letta-led coalition government survived a confidence vote this afternoon, winning overwhelmingly 235-70.
The headlines tomorrow will say that, against the odds, Mr Letta was the winner today. Arguably the more important question to emerge this morning, however, concerns centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, who faced with an imminent split in his People of Freedom (PDL) party appeared to change strategy at least half a dozen times in the last 24 hours.
Having provoked this crisis by withdrawing his PDL ministers from the Letta government last Saturday, Mr Berlusconi at the very last moment intervened in the Senate to say that, after all, the PDL would vote in favour of the government.
Arriving at the Senate this morning, Mr Berlusconi had told reporters that he would listen to Mr Letta’s address to the house and then decide which way to vote.
One hour later, his PDL party held a tempestuous meeting in the Senate at which it was decided to vote against the government. Following that, one senior PDL figure, ex Arts Minister Sandro Bondi, made a particularly polemical speech in the house in which he accused the Democratic Party (PD) of failing to support the PDL in its battle against the “overweaning” power of the judiciary.
Mr Bondi concluded by saying that the Berlusconi PDL party would vote against the confidence motion, in an attempt to bring down the government.
Half an hour later, just as the vote was about to begin, Mr Berlusconi took the microphone to make the astonishing declaration that, after all, given his continuing belief in a climate of “pacification” between the coalition government partners, that he had instructed his PDL party to vote in favour of the Letta government. He might as well have said, “Ah lads, I was only joking”.
In a remarkable political game, Mr Berlusconi managed to record a win, loss and draw all in the same match. At the heart of his apparently flip-flop behaviour, there is probably a very Machiavellian consideration. Namely, faced with a party split, given that 20-20 PDL figures had already indicated that they would vote in favour of Mr Letta, he opted to limit the damages.
In so doing, Mr Berlusconi will argue that he has saved his PDL party, albeit diminished in numbers, to live to fight another day. Had he called on all the PDL to vote against Mr Letta, the level of schism would almost certainly have been much greater.
Two big questions now ask themselves. Firstly, what sort of coalition government will emerge from today’s vote? Given the bitter, polemical nature of the last few days, it is hard to imagine this current PDL-PD coalition progressing much further down the road. It could be that the seemingly inevitable coalition collapse has been merely delayed to next spring.
As for Mr Berlusconi, he seems certain to continue his campaign against the judiciary which last June convicted him for tax fraud, sentencing him to four years in prison (reduced to one year’s house arrest) and to a ban from public office. On Friday, a parliamentary committee will again meet to rule on his expulsion from the Senate, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the tax fraud case in early August. On that same day, he intends to hold a rally at which he will again protest against the Supreme Court ruling.
We have not seen the end of Mr. Berlusconi yet.