Berlusconi’s approval ratings spiral downward-poll

* Berlusconi loses nine points in six weeks

* New poll confirms downward trend

* Two ministers resigned in two months

By Philip Pullella

ROME, July 8 (BestGrowthStock) – Coalition infighting, a painful
austerity budget and corruption allegations have sent Italian
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s approval ratings spiralling
downwards, a poll showed on Thursday.

The poll in Italy’s leading Corriere della Sera newspaper
showed Berlusconi’s approval rating fell to 41 percent from 50
percent about six weeks ago.

The survey by the ISPO research group showed 57 percent of
those asked had a negative opinion of Berlusconi’s ability to
govern, up from 48 percent in the last week of May.

The survey brought Berlusconi’s popularity to the same low
level shown by polls for left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper.

The ISPO poll showed the 73-year-old media magnate’s
popularity was suffering from erosion even among traditional
supporters of the centre-right. In that category, it fell by
seven points over six weeks.

In the past weeks, Berlusconi has been assailed on several
fronts by problems that have made his government more vulnerable
than it has been since it took office in 2008.

The government has decided to call confidence votes in both
houses of parliament to push through a 25-billion-euro austerity
budget, which critics say bleeds workers and spares the rich.

The budget, which will include drastic cuts to
municipalities and regions, has been a magnet for opposition
protests and has divided the centre-right.

Coalition parliamentarians have presented some 1,250
amendments to make it more palatable to local voters but the
government has for the most part refused to make substantial
changes, saying it is necessary to avoid a Greek-style crisis.

TWO MINISTERS RESIGNED

The latest poll said the fall in popularity was partly due
to the saga of Aldo Brancher, a Berlusconi friend on trial over
accusations of embezzlement and who Berlusconi appointed in June
to be “minister for federalism”.

One of Brancher’s first acts as minister was to take
advantage of a law giving ministers the right not to attend
trials where they are defendants. The move raised suspicions
that that was behind the appointment in the first place.

Brancher resigned on Monday, 16 days after he was sworn in.

Berlusconi’s popularity is also under strain over a law
limiting the use of wiretaps by police that he wants to push
through but is contested by magistrates and journalists.

Berlusconi says the rules are needed to protect privacy. The
opposition says his real aim is to stop more leaks of judicial
wiretaps that have got him and some ministers into trouble.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola, a Berlusconi ally,
resigned in May after it was found that a constructor arrested
in a corruption probe helped pay for a luxury apartment in Rome.
The allegations against Scajola surfaced from wiretaps.

Another conflict undermining the government’s stability is a
showdown shaping up between Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini, the
speaker of the lower house and co-founder with Berlusconi of the
People of Freedom coalition party.

Fini has criticised what he says is a lack of freedom of
speech in the party and the two are effectively no longer on
speaking terms, a situation commentators say is untenable.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Berlusconi’s approval ratings spiral downward-poll