Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won a crucial confidence vote in parliament today with a comfortable majority that is however unlikely to reassure markets or end growing calls for him to resign.
The ruling centre-right coalition won with 316 votes in favour and 301 against, following a series of rows within the government as well as growing criticism over Berlusconi's handling of the economy at a volatile time on financial markets. The centre-left "has behaved ignominiously in front of Italians and I hope Italians take this absolutely negative behaviour into account," Berlusconi told reporters ahead of the vote, saying the opposition's "ambush" would not work.
Berlusconi stressed that the coalition needed a simple majority and not an absolute majority in order to win the confidence of parliament. "The important thing is to win against the left," said the scandal-mired billionaire tycoon. The 75-year-old has come under pressure in recent months due to a series of scandals including criminal charges of having paid for sex last year with a voluptuous nightclub dancer, then 17, nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer". His popularity has tanked to 24 per cent, according to the latest opinion poll.
But Berlusconi has repeatedly fought off critics saying there is "no alternative" to his centre-right government and warning that bids to oust him could further hurt Italy's fragile position on jittery financial markets. "There is no alternative to this government," he told told parliament on Thursday, saying that the centre-left was "united only by its anti-Berlusconism." "Early elections would not solve the problems we have.... A political crisis now would mean victory for the party of decline, catastrophe and speculation." Berlusconi was forced to turn to parliament to confirm its support after the ruling coalition suffered an embarrassing setback on Tuesday when it was unexpectedly defeated in a low-profile but important technical vote.