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Fini Resists Berlusconi’s Call to Resign, Sets Up Own Formation

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Berlusconi Ousts Fini, May Lose Majority to Govern
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, laughs during a news conference in Toronto. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

July 30 (Bloomberg) -- Gianfranco Fini, speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament, said he would abandon Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling party to create a new formation that could end the premier’s majority in the legislature.

The top leadership of the People of Liberty party yesterday passed a six-page document censuring Fini, saying his view were “absolutely incompatible with the principles of the party” he co-founded with Berlusconi two years ago. Berlusconi also called on Fini to give up his post as speaker of the chamber. Fini refused to step down today and called the censure a “de facto expulsion” at a press conference in Rome.

His new grouping will be called Future and Freedom, and while Fini said he would still support the government, the new formation would oppose any legislation it deemed “unjustly damaging,” he said.

“Yesterday an ugly page in the history of the center-right was written,” Fini said, declining to take questions. He dismissed Berlusconi’s call for his resignation, saying “it shows he thinks like a businessman” and his thinking has “nothing to do with our institutions.”

Open warfare between the two allies-turned-enemies threatens the premier’s parliamentary majority two years into his term and may force the collapse of the government should Fini’s supporters withdraw their backing for critical legislation due to be voted on after the legislature’s August break. The public rift between the two has contributed to Berlusconi’s popularity falling to the lowest since he came to power in May 2008.

Defections

As many as 34 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 10 senators were ready to leave Berlusconi and join his rival, news agency Ansa said. Should they all defect with Fini, the prime minister’s support in the lower house would fall to 310 deputies, less than the 316 needed for a majority, according to Ansa.

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.

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.

Winning Team

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

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the biggest opposition party, said the government is in crisis and called on Berlusconi to address parliament on the situation.

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

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

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