Berlusconi Distances Himself From Letta as Party Risks Splitting

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi distanced himself from the government he helped form in April by rallying his most loyal allies into what may become a new political party.

The 77-year-old billionaire summoned leaders of his People of Liberty party today in Rome for a meeting that will start his new movement, Renato Brunetta, the group’s chief whip in the lower house of parliament said via Twitter Inc. The decision split the party in two as Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, its general secretary and its strongest voice in support of the government, refused to attend.

Berlusconi is seeking to impose his authority over a smaller group of lawmakers after losing control of People of Liberty, or PDL, this month in a failed attempt to topple Prime Minister Enrico Letta. The government, which relies on PDL votes for support in parliament, may retain a majority if enough of its members, such as Alfano, refuse to follow Berlusconi into the new group that Brunetta said will be called Forza Italia.

“The creation of a splinter political group from the PDL/Forza Italia would not significantly increase the risk of a possible downfall by Letta’s government,” Wolfango Piccoli, a London-based analyst with Teneo Intelligence, said today in a research note. “To the contrary, the emergence of a centrist political formation composed by dovish figures from Berlusconi’s party could provide the government with a more reliable support.”

Unreliable Backer

Letta, 47, came to power by stitching together a three-party coalition after February elections failed to yield a force strong enough to govern alone. The PDL is the second-biggest group behind Letta’s Democratic Party.

Berlusconi became an increasingly unreliable backer for the government in recent months as his legal troubles intensified. Berlusconi, now a senator, is facing expulsion proceedings in the upper house after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction for tax fraud on Aug. 1. His push to bring down the government failed when Alfano secured enough PDL dissidents to ensure Letta victory in an Oct. 2 confidence vote.

Forza Italia is the name of the party Berlusconi created when he entered politics in 1993. That party eventually became the PDL by merging with other groups.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Frye in Rome at afrye@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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