Italian government wins confidence vote

Rome, Oct 3 (IANS) Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta Wednesday won a vote of confidence at the Senate, securing his troubled government's survival, with former premier Silvio Berlusconi making an about face on his decision to vote against the government.

Letta, whose Democratic Party (PD) controls the lower house but is short of a solid majority in the Senate, obtained the victory with 235 "yes" votes versus 70 "no" votes and 0 abstentions, Xinhua reported.

The PD gave a vote of confidence as did its centre-right partner, former premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, and the centrist formation of Letta's predecessor Mario Monti.

Opposition forces, namely Five-Star Movement (M5S), Northern League and Ecology and Freedom party (SEL), gave a vote of no confidence.

Letta decided to ask for a confidence motion after his coalition was threatened last week by Berlusconi who ordered the five ministers from his party, including Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, to resign.

Berlusconi, who is waiting for the Senate's decision over his ejection from parliament following a final tax fraud verdict, blamed the coalition for putting on ice the postponement of a value added tax (VAT) hike, which Letta said "was agreed upon by PdL and PD".

Letta refused to accept the ministers' signatures and the PdL appeared to split over the vote until the last moment when Berlusconi decided to back the government.

"We listened carefully to the statements made by the prime minister... Italy needs a government and reforms, and we decided not without internal anguish to express a vote of confidence," the 77-year-old media tycoon said.

Earlier, senior PdL Senator Roberto Formigoni said that 25 of the party's lawmakers were ready to form a breakaway group and vote for confidence in Premier Enrico Letta's coalition government later.

"There are already 25 of us. It's possible that others will join," Formigoni said, adding that they would later Wednesday establish an independent group called 'I Popolari' (the People's Party).

The group would position itself on the centre-right as an alternative to the centre left, he said.

Letta called the make-or-break confidence vote after Berlusconi Saturday announced that the PdL was pulling out its five ministers from the fragile coalition with Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

Berlusconi's move came after the government approved an increase in value added tax (VAT).

Former premier Berlusconi also faces ejection from the Senate this week after a binding tax fraud conviction handed him in August by Italy's top court.

The decision by the the party's hitherto undisputed leader provoked the watershed revolt within the PdL, with dozens of Senators defying orders and declaring they would vote for the government.

The PdL moderates are not in favour of sinking the government just as Italy is showing tentative signs of emerging from its longest recession in over two decades.

Letta, whose party has a strong majority in the lower house, appeared set to win the confidence vote after the PdL defections.

He can count on at least 138 votes from the PD and centrist parties, but to be sure of winning needs at least 20 more votes for a majority.

As the debate on the confidence motion opened, Letta said Italy risked being left without a stable government if his administration fell, a situation that could prove "fatal" for the debt-laden, recession-mired country.

In Italy, when a party or coalition is asked to form a government by the president, the government must receive a vote of support from both houses before it can exercise power. When it receives a vote of no confidence from parliament, it must resign.

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