Italy’s embattled prime minister faces a motion of no confidence in parliament today, and the count is so tight that if any one of three pregnant lawmakers who are expected to vote against him goes into labor beforehand, Silvio Berlusconi may survive by the skin of his teeth.
Battered by sex scandals and the desertion of one-time allies, the 74-year-old media tycoon tried to rally support Monday, telling lawmakers it would be foolish to bring down his government at a time when the Italian economy is trying to tiptoe its way through the crisis engulfing the euro.
Italy is dealing with one of the highest levels of public debt of any European country, and economic growth has been sluggish, but the government’s austerity plan has won at least initial praise from international investors.
“The last thing Italy needs is a political crisis,” Berlusconi warned in a speech before the Senate. A thumbs-up vote for his government, he said, would be a vote for “stability, efficiency, cooperation, decision-making capacity … a choice dictated by realism and political wisdom.”
To a large extent, however, he was preaching to the choir: His ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in the upper chamber, which is expected to reaffirm its support for him.
It’s the vote in the 630-seat lower chamber that counts, and there the tally is too close to call. In July, Berlusconi’s closest ally, Gianfranco Fini, broke away from the prime minister’s right-wing People of Freedom party, depriving him of a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and precipitating today’s censure motion.