Published on Wednesday, April 20, 2005 by the Press Association/UK
Berlusconi 'May Resign' in Parliament Speech; War Position Unpopular
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi met with close allies today, amid reports of a possible resignation, as he prepared for a crucial parliamentary address ahead of a confidence vote that will decide whether his conservative government stays in power.
The premier was scheduled to deliver a speech this afternoon, first in the Senate and then in the lower house of parliament. He is expected to face a confidence vote tomorrow.
If he loses, his government, the longest-serving in post-war Italy, must resign.
There were also suggestions Berlusconi might step down before the vote.
The ANSA news agency quoted MP Renato Schifani, of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, as saying the premier would offer his resignation to Italy’s president after his speech in parliament.
The premier also called a Cabinet meeting in the Senate to start immediately after the address, reports said, fuelling speculation he might announce his resignation in parliament and then inform his ministers.
Berlusconi, however, is a political maverick who often defies predictions. Earlier this week, his allies had announced the premier would step down, and he did not.
The premier met at his Rome residence with Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, who has been trying to mediate, and officials from the Northern League party, which has supported the premier, the ANSA news agency said.
Berlusconi is struggling with the worst crisis of his four-year government. Yesterday, his top ally threatened to quit the government.
The National Alliance party said it would still support the centre-right coalition, but the continued participation of its ministers “depends solely on what Berlusconi will say and do”.
National Alliance ministers had prepared letters of resignation and the party’s leaders were preparing to meet following Berlusconi’s address to parliament.
The National Alliance is the coalition’s second-largest party after Berlusconi’s own party. If its five ministers – including Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini – resign from the Cabinet, there’s little chance the government can survive and Berlusconi would likely be forced into early elections.
The turmoil was triggered by a crushing defeat in regional elections this month. The billionaire media mogul’s popularity has fallen amid sluggish economic growth and Italy’s unpopular military mission in Iraq.
Last week, a smaller coalition partner, the Union of Christian Democrats, or UDC, decided to withdraw its three ministers from the Cabinet. The tiny New Italian Socialist Party has also pulled out two lower-level officials.
The UDC had demanded that Berlusconi resign and reshuffle the Cabinet to strengthen his coalition. The premier rejected the move, which has been widely used by premiers to strengthen faltering coalitions, as a remnant of old-style Italian politics, and decided to discuss his Cabinet’s turmoil in parliament.
Berlusconi’s coalition has enjoyed a solid majority in parliament and may still have the numbers to survive the confidence vote. Both the UDC and the National Alliance said that they would support him.
© 2005 The Press Association Limited