After Silvio Berlusconi`s U-turn, PM Enrico Letta wins confidence vote

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Wednesday won the confidence vote after Silvio Berlusconi dropped his bid to topple the government.

Updated: Oct 02, 2013, 22:52 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

Rome: Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Wednesday won the confidence vote after Silvio Berlusconi dropped his bid to topple the government.

The complete turnaround in Berlusconi`s stand came after his top aides decided to back the government.

"We have decided to vote for confidence, not without internal disputes," Berlusconi said ahead of a confidence vote in parliament called after he launched his challenge to the leadership on Saturday.

The confidence vote comes after Berlusconi withdrew his party’s five ministers from the governing coalition, giving a jolt to an already wobbly left-right coalition.

Berlusconi said he had changed his mind on Wednesday after hearing Letta`s promise to lower taxes and "the need for a government that can carry out institutional reforms in Italy".

The surprise about-turn made victory for Letta`s coalition a certainty and was immediately cheered by the markets, with shares in Milan jumping 1.45 per cent higher after the shock announcement.

The difference between rates on Italian 10-year government bonds and benchmark German ones -- a measure of investor confidence -- also narrowed to 253 basis points from 260 points on Tuesday.

Letta shook his head as Berlusconi was speaking and the address was followed by stunned silence.

Lawmakers were still set to vote despite the change of heart by a man who has dominated Italian political life for much of the past two decades.

Letta earlier asked lawmakers to vote for him, saying Italians were tired of "blood in the arena".

"Italy runs a risk that could be a fatal risk. Seizing this moment or not depends on us, on a yes or a no," Letta said in his address to the Senate.

"This is a historic situation," he said.

Several key figures from Berlusconi`s own centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL) broke ranks with the billionaire media mogul after his decision to call time on the government and pull his ministers from the Cabinet on Saturday.

Letta immediately condemned the move as "crazy and irresponsible" and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, national secretary of Berlusconi`s party, reacted by saying he would be "pro-Berlusconi in a different way".

A letter doing the rounds in the Senate just before Berlusconi spoke had 23 signatures of PDL senators willing to defy their leader.

Together with votes from four rebels of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, this would have been sufficient for Letta to win a majority even without Berlusconi`s support.

"Italians are crying out that they cannot take any more blood in the arena, with politicians who slit each other`s throats and then nothing changes," said Letta, a 47-year-old moderate leftist.

Berlusconi had only yesterday rallied his supporters to vote against the government.

"Despite the risks, I have decided to put an end to the Letta government," Berlusconi had said in a letter to the Catholic magazine Tempi.

Tensions within the coalition have spiked since Italy`s top court upheld a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi in August, which could see him ejected from the Senate later this month and barred from taking part in the next elections.

(With AFP Inputs)