by Marzia De Giuli
ROME, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Italy's troubled left-right government gained a new lease of life on Wednesday, when former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced to an astonishing U-turn by revolts in his party and gave his confidence vote to the left-right coalition.
Berlusconi's last-minute announcement that he and his whole center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party would support the government that he had just tried to destroy completely floored parliament.
Only days ago the center-right head had promised to withdraw support and ordered resignation of the five PdL ministers, a move which prompted Prime Minister Enrico Letta to call confidence vote in the Senate, where his center-left Democratic Party (PD) lacks a solid majority.
But Berlusconi, the 77-year-old media tycoon, turned around when it became certain that several PdL members, including Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano - seen as one of his most devoted loyalists - would oppose his orders and back the government.
"A more cohesive majority has resulted from today's (Wednesday) confidence vote. The coalition is stronger and will be able to actively work on its program of reforms," Paolo Guerrieri, an economics professor at La Sapienza University in Rome, told Xinhua.
"We risked to be without a government again but Europe could give a sigh of pleasure today. There are now the conditions and the time for the government to last until the next year and may be more. Italy is set to assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second semester of next year," Guerrieri said.
The "test" for the government will come, the professor added, with the 2014 budget bill, which has to be presented to the Parliament and the European Union (EU) by mid-October. The "heart" should be cutting labor taxes to boost much-needed growth after the austerity policies introduced by Letta's predecessor Mario Monti.
"Cutting taxes to give some respite to workers at last" and leaving pay-packets heavier will be combined with lowering taxes on employers, Letta said in an address to the lower house on Wednesday.
"The prime minister did not quiver in fear in front of the possibility that he could be toppled. Today he has strongly enlarged his leadership and the room for manoeuvre of his coalition," a columnist of Corriere della Sera newspaper, Dario Di Vico, told Xinhua.
The prime minister emerged triumphant. "Enough with these threats to the government," said the moderate premier, who was asked to put the fragile coalition together after February's inconclusive elections.
Changing an electoral law unable to produce a clear majority and introducing a series of much-needed economic reforms would be at the center of his agenda, he promised, visibly confident he now had the clout to get them approved by parliament.
However, difficult times still lie ahead after Wednesday's "political clarification" as the government will have to concretely outline its priority policies, Di Vico said.
Introduction of costly fiscal measures and fulfillment of budget commitments will be not an easy job. "The European Union has praised the government stability but will not make allowances," the economic analyst added.
Recent figures showed that household purchasing power has sunk in Italy's longest recession in more than 20 years. The ranks of the "new poor" have swelled while youth unemployment rate has crossed the 40 percent mark.
While it was unclear whether the PdL would formally split into two different groups, the confidence vote has highlighted an affinity between Letta and the five Berlusconi's ministers. This will smooth tensions in the government, that Di Vico also expects to survive until 2014 at least.
However, he added, it is too early to draw conclusions on Berlusconi's future, though his capacity to influence politics diminished. Despite some observers saying his failure to bring down the government spelled his end in politics, others highlighted that has re-emerge unscathed from a number of setbacks in the past.
The next act for the 77-year-old three-time premier and media entrepreneur will be on Friday, when a special Senate Committee is due to say whether he should be expelled from the upper house because of a tax fraud verdict in August. It was the first final guilty conviction in two decades of fighting legal cases.
Italy confidence vote safeguards gov't, signals Berlusconi's crisis
ROME, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Italy's government survived a dramatic confidence vote on Wednesday, which is being interpreted as a sign of weakness of Silvio Berlusconi's political leadership.
With the most unexpected turnabout, the centre-right leader decided to withdraw his demand for early elections and supported Prime Minister Enrico Letta in a confidence vote in the senate. Full story
Italian gov't wins second of two confidence votes from parliament
ROME, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Italy's troubled government late on Wednesday won the second of two confidence votes from parliament, after Prime Minister Enrico Letta was threatened last week by former premier Silvio Berlusconi who ordered the ministers from his center-right party to resign.
The left-right coalition gained support of the lower chamber with a large majority of 435 yes votes to 162 no votes, hours after the Senate also gave its approval. Full story