Lower house vote on junior minister to test Berlusconi


THE STRENGTH of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government will be tested in the Italian parliament today when the lower house is asked to vote on a no-confidence motion on junior justice minister Giacomo Caliendo, who is accused of involvement in a pseudo-masonic influence-peddling scandal.

In the last two months, three members of Mr Berlusconi’s government have been forced to resign because of alleged improprieties. Today’s vote represents the first government test since Mr Berlusconi last week split with his longtime ally and Freedom People Party (PDL) co-founder, lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini.

Given that Mr Fini can call on 33 votes, it may be that Mr Berlusconi no longer commands a parliamentary majority.

Although Mr Fini last week said he would vote against the government when and if he disagreed with proposed measures, the former Alleanza Nazionale (AN) leader is unlikely to attempt to bring down the government today.

After a meeting with three smaller, middle-ground parties yesterday, the dissidents opted to abstain from today’s vote. In effect, such an abstention would pave the way for the rejection of the no-confidence motion.

Both Mr Berlusconi and senior figures in the PDL camp have made it clear over the last two days that, if and when the government is defeated, an early election should be called, probably for autumn.

However, neither Mr Fini’s new Future and Liberty Party nor the official centre-left opposition, the Democratic Party (PD), is remotely ready for an election.

That reasoning may well have prompted the decision to abstain on today’s vote. The same reasoning lies behind the PD’s wish for a “technical” government, similar to that led by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 1993, which would hold office for a year or so, perhaps introducing an electoral reform before a general election.

The abstention decision prompted bitter criticism from former investigating magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, whose Italy of Values party has proposed the no- confidence motion along with the PDs.

Writing on his blog yesterday, Mr Di Pietro argued: “Fini and his supporters have a clear choice in front of them on Wednesday – they can choose the side of citizens, of the state and of legality or they can stick with their former fellow travellers . . . If they take that second choice, then they will show themselves to be merely a squalid copy of the party they have been with for the last two years . . .

“Either you decide against the no-confidence motion and in the process you are saying that P3 is merely the persecution of decent politicians like [senator Marcello] Dell Utri, [junior minister Nicola] Cosentino, Caliendo and company, or you decide that Caliendo should do something else with his life and not be involved in a delicate role at the ministry of justice.”