PREVIEW-Italy’s Berlusconi faces decisive parliament vote

* Berlusconi to address parliament on Wednesday

* Speech to be followed by vote to test support

* No formal confidence vote that could trigger new election

By James Mackenzie

ROME, Sept 28 (BestGrowthStock) – Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi faces a decisive test of his ability to continue in
government on Wednesday when he seeks the backing of parliament
after months of feuding with his former ally Gianfranco Fini.

The prime minister is due to address the lower house at 0900
GMT, outlining the priorities for the second half of his term,
which is due to run until 2013.

The speech will be followed by a debate and a vote in the
evening which will gauge whether the government still has a
majority after the break with Fini and a group of more than 40
deputies and senators in July.

Wednesday’s vote is not expected to be on a full confidence
motion that could bring the prime minister down and trigger
early elections, but it will be a clear pointer to whether
Berlusconi has enough support to finish his term in office.

The future of the government has been in the balance since
Berlusconi effectively expelled Fini from the ruling People of
Freedom party they conceived together in 2008 as a new force to
unite the Italian centre-right.

There are few major policy differences between the two but
even by the Byzantine standards of Italian politics, the
acrimony between them has been poisonous, fuelled on both sides
by accusations of treachery, corruption, lies and smears.

Fini has accused billionaire media entrepreneur Berlusconi
of running the government like one of his private companies and
he has been a caustic critic of a series of scandals implicating
associates of the prime minister.

Berlusconi in turn accuses Fini, the speaker of the lower
house of parliament, of betrayal and says he is only motivated
by egotism and personal ambition.

KEEP GOING

Despite the bitterness, Fini has said he does not want to
bring down Berlusconi and would not vote against a formal
confidence motion. However deputies loyal to him could abstain
from a vote, underlining the vulnerability of the government.

Exactly how the parliamentary arithmetic will break down is
still unclear, with both Fini’s and Berlusconi’s lieutenants
claiming to have won over new recruits from the other side or
from the smaller parties.

Opinion polls show that Berlusconi’s approval ratings have
dropped steadily since he came to power in 2008, but the
enfeebled centre-left opposition has done even worse and the
prime minister would probably win a new election.

However it is likely he would emerge with a reduced majority
and could lose control of the Senate. He has sounded more
cautious lately about the idea of seeking early elections than
he did at the start of the crisis.

The weeks of mudslinging have prompted despairing calls to
order from figures ranging from the head of the main business
lobby Confindustria to the Catholic church, who say the crisis
has distracted Berlusconi from the task of reform.

Italy has emerged only slowly from its worst postwar
recession and faces sluggish growth at best, with the European
Commission calling on the government to implement measures to
improve its declining competitiveness.

Public debt is running at almost 120 percent of gross
domestic product, unemployment has been stubbornly high
particularly among young people and workers have seen spending
power squeezed hard over the past decade.

But at the same time, Berlusconi and his Economy Minister
Giulio Tremonti have put a tight clamp on public spending and
kept Italy out of the turmoil that has swept across countries
with much higher budget deficits like Greece, Spain or Ireland.

PREVIEW-Italy’s Berlusconi faces decisive parliament vote