Letta Foils Attempt to Oust Minister as Ally Criticism Increases

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta protected his justice minister, Anna Maria Cancellieri, from a motion of no confidence in parliament by securing the support of his own political party.

The motion against Cancellieri was defeated 405-154 in the Chamber of Deputies in Rome today after lawmakers in Letta’s Democratic Party said they dropped opposition to the minister at the premier’s request. Letta brought his party into line late yesterday after some of its top members, including Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, called for Cancellieri to step down.

“This is yet another sign of how weak the government is,” Federico Santi, a London-based analyst with Eurasia Group, said in a phone interview. Renzi “is starting to put some distance between himself and Letta, starting to criticize him, trying to undermine him indirectly.” Santi said snap elections are most likely in the first half next year.

Letta’s three-party coalition is fraying as Italy’s recession enters a third year and Renzi, 38, builds consensus within the Democratic Party, or PD. Letta, who was brought to power in April in a parliamentary compromise, has said his goal is to keep the alliance intact until at least 2015.

Italian 10-year bond yields rose 4 basis points to 4.1 percent at 3:16 p.m. in Rome.

Letta told PD lawmakers yesterday that the vote on Cancellieri amounted to a confidence vote on his government, party member Paolo Gentiloni told Ansa news wire. Giuseppe Civati, a PD lawmaker, said in a speech to the chamber before the vote that he would support Cancellieri although he was “uncomfortable” with the party line.

Prison Release

Letta, 47, found himself at odds with Renzi this month after defending Cancellieri against accusations she aided the release from prison of a financier and family friend, Giulia Ligresti, on health concerns. Cancellieri denied inappropriate behavior, saying she asked officials to check on Ligresti’s health, while never requesting the discharge.

“It’s the republic of friends of friends,” Renzi said in an e-mailed statement yesterday about Cancellieri. “This behavior is unbearable.”

Cancellieri, 70, a technocrat who served as interior minister in Mario Monti’s government from 2011 through April of this year, isn’t a member of Letta’s party.

Renzi is the frontrunner to become general secretary of the PD in a Dec. 8 party election.

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