Italian senate rejects no-confidence vote against minister

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Silvio Berlusconi has passed his first test of strength after losing the majority.
Image: Presidenza della Repubblica Italiana.

Silvio Berlusconi has survived a key no-confidence vote against a minister in his cabinet accused of corruption. The vote was the first test of the strength of the Prime Minister's coalition since the dramatic split with his 16-year ally Gianfranco Fini, which led to the coalition losing the majority.

Yesterday the lower house voted 299 to 229 to reject the no-confidence motion brought against Giacomo Caliendo. Caliendo is a junior minister for justice accused of involvement in a secret cabal that reportedly tried to influence judical and government appointments. His resignation was called for by the opposition but, crucially, it was the abstention of 75 members of the senate, Gianfranco Fini's rebels, that led to the motion being defeated.

The abstention averted a confrontation between the coalition and the rebels but it can also be seen as a show of strength by the renegades, a way of showing their powerful influence while avoiding a dispute.

Although superficially the motion's rejection appears to show that the coalition government can still be effective without a majority, The Telegraph's website commented that it demonstrates that Fini's rebels are now in a position to control the outcome of votes in the house, since their support or their abstention can mean the difference between a motion passing or being rejected.

The motion's defeat also means that the early elections that looked to be on the horizon may be put off. The elections could have been called early due to the rupture in the party but now may be postponed until later this year. Berlusconi's closest ally Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League party, said: "This means that we are resisting and that we will not go to the polls for now." However Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, also of the Northern League party, said yesterday that elections later this year could not be ruled out.

The alleged influence-peddling that junior minister Caliendo is accused of is the same kind of moral and legal issue that has dogged Berlusconi's government, and the kind of issue that led Fini to lead the break away from the coalition. The Prime Minister may be facing impeachment after Italy's Constitutional Court overturned a law granting him immunity from prosecution. Even though the defeat of this motion means the coalition has passed the first test of strength, it may not do it much good if the Prime Minister faces prosecution.

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