Berlusconi fails to topple Letti government, offers support

Silvio Berlusconi Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday acknowledged the defeat of his move to topple the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta after his no-confidence move against the government failed on Tuesday, with several of his LDP senators backing the Letta administration.

Late last week, the controversial Berlusconi had vowed to topple the government by withdrawing the support of his party, the centre-left People of Freedom party (PDL) (see: Berlusconi conviction could trip Italy's ruling coalition).

But he backed down when it became clear that several of his senators would support the Letta administration.

Berlusconi took the Senate floor in an unexpected intervention ahead of the vote to determine the government's survival after Letta made an impassioned plea to keep his five-month-old government alive.

Letta had earlier said that if he were defeated in the vote, it might prove a "fatal risk" for Italy. In the event he won easily: the Senate voted 235 to 70 in favour of the government.

"Italy needs a government that can produce structural and institutional reforms that the country needs to modernise," Berlusconi said in brief remarks. "We have decided, not without internal strife, to vote in confidence."

It was a major setback for Berlusconi, who had demanded his five Cabinet ministers quit the government and bring it down, incensed at a vote planned Friday that could strip him of his Senate seat following his tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence.

But in a remarkable challenge to Berlusconi's authority, several allies balked and said they would instead support Letta's hybrid right-left coalition.

Italy's finances are in a critical state, and pressing economic measures need to be passed.

Heading into the vote, the numbers were in flux. Dissenting Senator Roberto Formigoni said some 25 Berlusconi allies had signed on to support Letta, enough to tip the balance in Letta's favour in the 321-member chamber.

This could well be the end of the road for Berlusconi, internationally better known for his sexual romps than his alleged financial corruption (See: Italy's ex-PM Berlusconi gets 7-yr sentence in sex scandal). Berlusconi avoided comment on the schism within his party and instead threw in the towel. 

Entering the Senate, Berlusconi appeared less combative than he has in recent days, "We'll see what happens," Italian news agencies quoted him as saying. "We'll listen to Letta's speech and then decide."

Berlusconi's LDP has been badly divided ever since Italy's high court upheld his tax fraud conviction and sentence in August.

But it has been thrown into chaos after several lawmakers and his closest ally and political heir Angelino Alfano openly defied him and said they would support Letta.