Italian PM Letta to call confidence vote after resignations
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said that he would call for a confidence vote in parliament, most likely tomorrow, to clear up the political uncertainty surrounding his fragile government after the sudden resignation of five ministers belonging to Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party.
In the vote, "everyone will assume their own responsibility, all above board", Letta said on Italian television on Sunday, shortly after meeting President Giorgio Napolitano.
The unexpected move on Saturday by Berlusconi's allies raised concerns that Italy's troubles may threaten political and financial stability in Europe. Commentators speculated gloomily about how the financial markets would react.
Letta also said he would no longer be bound by the whims of Berlusconi's People of Liberty party, which has been a mainstay of Italy's broad coalition government, formed five months ago after elections in February failed to produce a clear majority.
"I have no intention to govern at all costs," he said on Sunday. "Today the conditions are to have the confidence of parliament - not for three days, but to go ahead and apply a programme."
Tensions within the coalition government erupted as a Senate committee prepared to decide whether Berlusconi would retain his seat in the upper house, after his conviction in August in a tax fraud case. He is supposed to begin serving a one-year sentence, most likely in the form of house arrest, in mid-October.
The ostensible breaking point for Berlusconi was the government's failure to take measures to stop a scheduled increase of 1 percentage point in the country's value-added tax, to 22 per cent. He said on Sunday that his party had promised during the election campaign to halt the increase, and that the only alternative was to hold early elections.
But Napolitano said that he would not call a new election unless all other possibilities were exhausted first.
There were signs that not all of Berlusconi's party agreed with his decision to withdraw from the government. The five ministers evidently were not consulted. Several issued statements questioning the decision-making process that led to the demand that they resign, raising the possibility that some disaffected People of Liberty lawmakers might give Letta the votes he needs to survive the confidence vote.
"There is a climate of evident uncertainly regarding the possible developments of the political situation," Napolitano said. Parliament, he said, was the "proper place for clarification".