Berlusconi Invokes Party Split, Says No Risk to Government With Support

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took steps to expel Gianfranco Fini from the People of Liberty party they co-founded, a move that may end the premier’s parliamentary majority two years into his term.

“There is febrile concern about the stability of the government and by implication the political architecture of the last 16 years,” James Walston, who teaches politics at American University in Rome, said in an e-mail. “The Fini opposition has become more vocal. There is talk of a transitional government.”

The 73-year-old premier asked Fini to resign as a speaker of the lower house, calling his positions “absolutely incompatible with the founding principles of the People of Liberty,” after the party leadership approved last night a six- page document censuring Fini. “Berlusconi gets rid of Fini,” ran the front-page headline of il Giornale, a newspaper run by his brother Paolo.

Fini said he will form a new parliamentary group with the rest of his backers outside Berlusconi’s party, a move that could deprive the People of Liberty of a majority in both houses of the legislature. The public rift between the two men has contributed to Berlusconi’s popularity falling to the lowest since coming to power in May 2008.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, laughs during a news conference in Toronto. Close

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, laughs during a news conference in Toronto.

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, laughs during a news conference in Toronto.

Without Fini and his allies the prime minister’s support in the lower house would fall to 310 deputies, less than the 316 needed for a majority, according to news agency Ansa. In the Senate, backing would drop to 160, short of the 162 required to pass bills.

Possible Successor

Fini, 58, considered one of the politicians most likely to vie for leadership after the 73-year-old Berlusconi leaves the scene, has criticized the premier for not allowing dissent within the party they co-founded. Fini and his allies have clashed with Berlusconi over a draft law to limit wiretapping, an immunity law for top politicians, immigration policy, and recently over how to respond to corruption probes of ministers and party members.

The two allies-turned-enemies first joined forces in 1994, and have since won three elections together, the last one in 2008, when the two fused their own parties and ran as a single formation.

Fini rejected the call for him to give up his institutional post, and gave the go-ahead to his allies to form of a new group in both houses of parliament, Ansa news agency reported. As many as 34 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 14 Senators were ready to leave Berlusconi and join his rival, Ansa said. Fini is slated to hold a news conference later today.

Divided Coalition

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the biggest opposition party, said the government is in crisis and called on Berlusconi to reveal his support in parliament. The premier said he still enjoyed both support in the legislature and among voters. “We don’t believe that there’s any risk to the government,” he said.

Even though he holds one of the biggest parliamentary majorities in postwar Italy, his coalition has often been divided. Berlusconi has had to resort to a record number of 36 confidence votes, a move that stakes the government’s survival on the outcome, to push through legislation such as the austerity measures to trim the country’s budget deficit.

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Steve Scherer at sscherer@bloomberg.net; Flavia Krause-Jackson in Rome at fjackson@bloomberg.net

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