Letta Seeks Post-Berlusconi Italian Majority in Confidence Vote

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s 2014 budget faces a confidence vote in the Senate today, the first test for the government’s new majority and possibly the last stand in parliament for Silvio Berlusconi.

The vote, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. in Rome, will showcase the alliance Letta is counting on to support his government without Berlusconi, the three-time ex-premier who is the object of an expulsion vote from parliament tomorrow. Berlusconi, 77, has criticized the budget as too austere and has yet to say publicly whether his new Forza Italia party will vote for it.

“The coming weeks, and particularly, the next few days, will be a difficult period for Prime Minster Enrico Letta’s government,” Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst with Teneo Intelligence, said in a research report yesterday. “Despite the upcoming political turbulence, Letta will likely retain the support of a Senate majority.”

The ruling coalition is in upheaval as lawmakers are split by their competing loyalties to Letta and Berlusconi, who helped create the government in April. The two leaders came into conflict after Berlusconi’s conviction in August for tax fraud prompted expulsion proceedings against him. The Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow evening in Rome on whether to strip the billionaire of his seat.

Italian 10-year bond yields fell 3 basis points to 4.06 percent at 3:35 p.m.

Letta’s Majorities

Letta needs 161 senators to carry the 321-seat upper chamber and will probably have to assemble two different majorities to win the budget vote today and the ballot on Berlusconi tomorrow. Today, Letta will rely on ex-Berlusconi allies like Constitutional Reforms Minister Gaetano Quagliariello to push the budget through. Tomorrow, the premier will need help from opposition parties to push Berlusconi out.

The vote on Berlusconi tomorrow isn’t scheduled as a confidence vote, meaning the government will stay in power even if the motion to expel him fails.

For the budget, Letta can count on 108 votes from his Democratic Party and 20 votes from the Civic Choice party previously led by former Premier Mario Monti. Another 29 votes have been pledged by the New Center-Right, the party created by Quagliariello and other ex-allies of Berlusconi, who broke with the former prime minister last month.

Further votes may be picked up from two groups with a total of 20 senators who are unaffiliated with the major parties. At least 18 of these lawmakers supported Letta in the April 30 confidence vote to install the government. In doubt are the 62 senators in Forza Italia, who contributed to the 233 votes won by Letta’s government in April.

Berlusconi Vote

Berlusconi told Forza Italia lawmakers in a meeting today to oppose the budget unless changes are made, Ansa reported.

There are also six senators with lifetime appointments.

The vote against Berlusconi tomorrow will be anchored by the Democratic Party and the 50 senators from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, the biggest opposition party.

The New Center-Right has said it will join Forza Italia in opposing the ouster. Further support for Berlusconi should come from the 16 senators of the Northern League and at least one of the two autonomous groups.

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