Silvio Berlusconi on Monday faced dissent within his People of Freedom Party, complicating his plans to bring down Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition government. But even if Letta survives a confidence vote on Wednesday the prospects for stability and reform in Italy look more fragile than ever as he will face a larger and stronger opposition backed by Berlusconi’s media empire. Letta’s hopes of survival appear to rest on some 20 senators from Berlusconi’s party, who are unhappy with his shock decision on Saturday to withdraw his ministers from Letta’s government. Italian shares and bonds recovered some of their losses on financial markets after a party source told Reuters the group of PDL moderates may be ready to back the government and break away from the PDL if Berlusconi does not soften his stance. However, whether the dissidents are actually prepared to back Letta remains to be seen. They did not speak out at a PDL meeting on Monday where Berlusconi called for unity, repeated that the party must push for early elections and did not open any internal debate, according to lawmakers present.
“I asked for a debate and some explanation and I was told politely that it would wait for another occasion,” PDL moderate lawmaker Fabrizio Cicchitto, one of the first to express any opposition to Berlusconi, told reporters after the meeting.
In the past those on the centre-right who have dared to stand up to Berlusconi have been quickly despatched to the political wilderness, but the media tycoon’s legal problems have opened the possibility of a break-up of the party that has dominated Italian politics for the last 20 years.
Berlusconi’s decision to order the five ministers to resign has plunged Italy into political chaos and left the euro zone’s third-largest economy without a fully operational government, prompting warnings that its sovereign debt rating is at risk.