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One of those Only in Italy Moments

Italy?

Although not widely renown for keeping to his promises, Silvio Berlusconi kept to a promise today.  Despite no longer holding a majority in Italy’s lower house, he did not resign because he promised himself he would not do so.

What Berlusconi has done to extract himself from a sticky situation is, in typical Berlusconi style, to have made yet another promise.

This time, and if he sticks to this particular promise, Berlusconi told Italy’s President Napolitano that he’ll go as soon as Italy’s latest European Union desired austerity measures have been passed.  This may happen around the 18th of November, though in view of the quantity of the measures demanded by the EU, keeping to any kind of deadline is likely to be difficult, if not downright impossible.

If the new austerity package, version four (I’m starting to lose count), does not come into effect, then Italy will keep Berlusconi and the lack of credibility which dogs him.  Cue: falling markets and default worries.

In the meantime, knowing Berlusconi, he will do his utmost to recreate his lost majority.  Today, he could only muster the support of 308 or so of his own party.  He needed 316 votes to maintain a knife-edge but working majority.  Italy’s lower house of parliament has 630 members.

What will happen now?

Italy’s opposition may try a vote of no confidence to end Berlusconi’s reign definitively, but this is not going to be as easy as it might first seem, as was pointed out to me by Professor James Walston, a Rome based political scientist and Italy expert.

Professor Walston told me that while Italy’s opposition parties may have enough support on paper at 321 or so votes to bring about Berlusconi’s demise, they are unsure whether all 321 of those who can vote would actually vote against Silvio Berlusconi.

Much in the same way as Berlusconi has been chatting to his wavering party members to convince them to vote for him, Italy’s opposition parties will now be attempting to gauge how many votes they can actually count on.  Once they are certain they have the necessary votes, a no confidence motion will no doubt be tabled.  The question is: How long will this take?

The answer is that nobody really knows.

Berlusconi’s party has been losing pieces gradually and certain members have been drifting towards other parties – mainly the centre-centre UDC party.

Italy?
Italy?
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Other members of Berlusconi’s party have remained aboard the PDL ship – for the moment – and have either not voted or have abstained.  Today, and much to Berlusconi’s obvious horror, eight members of his party did not vote.  These individuals, and Berlusconi is attempting to identify them, have been labelled as ‘traitors‘ by Berlusconi who the wrote the word next to a number 8 on a note taken during today’s vote in Italy’s parliament.

Cornered Rat

The long and the short of it all is that Berlusconi has decided to stay on and fight his corner, like a cornered rat.

Italy’s opposition were somewhat taken aback that Berlusconi did not call it a day after the vote revealed his majority, contrary to what he’s been maintaining, is not only not solid, but now appears to be non-existent.

Right at the last minute Berlusconi’s key coalition ally Umberto Bossi asked Berlusconi to step aside.  This request was not heeded even after the vote had taken place.

As one opposition politician put it in an interview: in a normal country a prime minister in Berlusconi’s shoes would simply go.  Not in Italy and not Silvio Berlusconi.

Today really was a classic “Only in Italy” moment.

Expect sparks over the next few days.

As has been pointed out by Reuters’ Gavin Jones, ousting Berlusconi will not solve Italy’s many problems and Berlusconi’s political opponents and probable replacements do not sound as if they are up to the job of pointing Italy in the right direction either.

41% Italy’s voters, according to a poll quoted by Reuters’ Chief Financial Correspondent in Italy, Lisa Jucca, either won’t vote or do not know who to support.

What a mess.  Here’s to hoping that this black cloud has a silver lining.

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