Silvio Berlusconi appeal over confidence vote 'folly'

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy says Tuesday's vote is too close to call

Italy's PM Silvio Berlusconi has urged MPs not to jeopardise the government for narrow political interests as he faces two crucial confidence votes.

He told the Senate, or upper house, Italy needed operational continuity, and ousting him would create a crisis.

He then told the lower house he would be willing to welcome rebel centre-right deputies back to his government if he survived a vote there.

If he loses the vote, Mr Berlusconi has said there will be early elections.

"If the no confidence motion is rejected, as I believe it will be, from tomorrow we will work to rebuild the moderate bloc," Mr Berlusconi told the Chamber of Deputies on Monday evening. "We will work to enlarge the government team."

While he is expected to win in the Senate, the lower house vote is set to be much tighter and could come down to one or two votes.

Defectors from the governing alliance say they can no longer tolerate a prime minister immersed in personal scandal and corruption allegations who, they say, has failed to implement the centre-right policy platform on which the government was elected.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says that even if Mr Berlusconi wins the confidence votes, it'll be difficult for him to continue to govern with such a slim majority in the lower house.

Ruby the dancer

Mr Berlusconi's political career - though not his marriage - has survived a string of scandals over his relationships with women.

Analysis

Silvio Berlusconi was using the final hours before the key confidence votes to charm and cajole his way to victory.

His speech to the lower house was a mixture of firmness but one that also reached out.

Italy would be in crisis if he was forced from office he said, now was not the time for change. The lower house poses the biggest danger to his future as it is where the breakaway party the FLI has most members.

They want the prime minister to resign following his personal scandals and lack of policy achievement.

But Mr Berlusconi says if he loses the Eurozone's third biggest economy could then face damaging uncertainty.

In November he was embroiled in a scandal over a 17-year-old dancer called Ruby, who was released from police custody after his personal intervention. He denied any improper conduct, saying he had simply pitied her plight.

In Monday's speeches, the billionaire media tycoon said those seeking to remove him would be unable to form a government.

"I understand those who would challenge the government, opening a crisis leading to fresh elections or at least proposing a different prime minister, whilst being sure of the ability to form a new governing majority," he said in Monday's speech to the Senate.

"However, I cannot understand the spirit of those who want to trigger, at all costs, a crisis in the dark."

For a man who normally comes out fighting when he is in a corner, analysts say Mr Berlusconi's performance was very calm and measured.

Speculation and rumour

He said that under his government Italy had gained a good reputation despite the financial crisis.

"I can say with absolute certainty that Italy is not part of the economic problems in Europe - it has become part of the solution," said Mr Berlusconi.

Chart showing public confidence in Silvio Berlusconi

He proposed a "legislative pact" with centre-right forces - members of his rival Gianfranco Fini's Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI) political movement, whose defections triggered the crisis, and the opposition Union of the Centre (UDC) party.

"I want to reconstitute the alliance of all the moderate forces that were the origin of our political engagement," he said.

Dozens of the prime minister's supporters have left, depriving him of his automatic majority in the lower house.

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If everyone who said they would vote against him did, he would be finished, but Roman politics isn't like that - strange alliances emerge from late-night meetings”

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Mr Fini says Mr Berlusconi's personal scandals, gaffes and failed policy programme make his position untenable.

He says he has enough votes to unseat Mr Berlusconi, but the numbers are so close no credible observer of these dramatic events is predicting which way it will go, our correspondent says.

Italian media are filled with speculation and rumour about the outcome of votes of confidence in both houses of parliament, he adds.

An investigation has been launched into claims that inducements have been offered to some members of parliament to secure their vote for Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi has said that early elections could cause political instability which would lead to a Greek- or Irish-style economic crisis.

Below are a selection of comments from BBC News website users in Italy.

The first thing Italy needs to be sure of is stability. No country can afford to face the current financial crisis and its potential outcomes without political stability. In addition Italy has huge problems, such as the garbage crisis in Naples, which need a stable government to stay and to continue to face it. Italy must maintain the current government, no matter what political parties think about Berlusconi. Francesco Perrotti, Naples

I can't believe it. Here we are with, at long last, the chance to kick this man out, and people are still dithering and calculating and playing their little political games in never-never land. I am aghast at Berlusconi's latest comment that a vote of no confidence could trigger an economic crisis. It is his government that has sold Italy down the river and has done nothing for Italians. Josephine Swift, Legnago

There is a nagging doubt in many people's minds that Berlusconi is going to scrape through to get this vote of confidence, but it will be by a slim majority that will make his government almost redundant. In the background Italy is almost on its knees with rubbish piling up in Naples (again), Pompeii crumbling, student unrest, unemployment rising. Italians want a serious change not just with the government but with the whole political landscape to lead them into the future. Gavin Burns, Rome

I hope he wins the vote of confidence simply because the whole crisis should never have happened. Fini, as speaker, should never have engaged in frontline politics, let alone formed a breakaway party, especially when he and his lieutenants were voted in precisely because they were part of a coalition with Berlusconi. The idea of dissent democratically expressed within a party seems to have eluded them, and ill-disguised ambition on Fini's part has led to a crisis that his own voters would probably be reluctant to applaud. This is a step backwards towards the Prima Repubblica - a swirling sea of minority parties, with governments being formed on the basis of personal deals rather than accountable political manifestos. Simon Tanner, Messina

I really hope Mr Berlusconi wins in the senate and in the chamber of deputies too. His government has ruled the country through the international economic crisis in an efficient way and lots of important reforms have been made. Let him work until the end of legislation and just judge results to the end of it. Vincenzo Arancio Vagliasindi, Milan

I hope the prime minister gets the votes of confidence. His term is due to end in two years. If the current government collapses, the country will face total chaos. Furthermore, imminent elections might place Mr Berlusconi in power for the next five years. In the next two years there will be enough time to plan the post-Berlusconi era. Federico Felizzi, Pescara

A substantial majority in the country feels the time has come for the end of Berlusconi's reign. His tenure has been one where he has first and foremost sought to protect his own interests, and the country's interests have been a distant second. This is not politics, it's big business and finally enough people have woken up to the reality of what this man represents. Although a right-winger myself I could never support this man, he has betrayed his country. Jeremy Beach, Noicattaro

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