by Alessandra Cardone
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.
Against his own will, the media tycoon and three-time Italian prime minister -- who has influenced the country's politics for decades -- was forced to make a dramatic turnaround in less that two hours, facing rebellion by his own supporters.
"What happened in the upper house was an undeniable display of political weakness," Federico Niglia, analyst of European politics and professor of International Relations with LUISS-Guido Carli University of Rome, told Xinhua.
"He was forced to make a U-turn and take a moderate line against his own will," he added.
During a frenzied morning, with a lot of citizens gathering around the senate waiting to know what the government's future would be, tensions within the centre-right People of Freedom Party (PDL) ran high.
Between 30 and 40 members of the party -- including party secretary Angelino Alfano -- openly rebelled against the official position of their leader, whose decision to pull five ministers out of the cabinet had triggered the crisis earlier in the week.
The "rebels" announced they would support Letta's government and that they would be ready to give birth to a new political force. At first, Berlusconi defiantly declared he would keep his position and recommended a non-confidence vote. Less than two hours later, though, he addressed the senate and declared to an astonished assembly that he had a change of heart.
"Putting together expectations and the fact that Italy needs a government able to make institutional and structural reforms, we have decided -- not without a sense of internal anguish -- to support the vote of confidence," Berlusconi said.
These words were welcomed with cheers and applause by PDL's members and with a silent smile by Letta, who had previously addressed the upper house with an urgent, dramatic speech, talking of the possible cabinet's collapse as a "fatal risk for the country."
The cabinet passed the confidence with 235 yes and 70 no votes.
"Berlusconi tried to take a hard-line and failed. He didn't play this game with his usual political and communicative capabilities. He took a moderate position at the end, but it was not a willing act," Niglia told Xinhua, adding that after today Berlusconi would not probably be able to lead the moderates of centre-right as he did before.
"He may keep his followers among the hard-liners, but not intercept and represent a transversal electorate as it had been in the last two decades," Niglia added.
On Friday, a special commission will gather to decide if Berlusconi should be expelled from the senate after his definitive conviction for tax fraud.
Berlusconi left the senate on Wednesday afternoon among tight security, with several dozen citizens booing him from the other side of the street.
Whether he will survive this "humiliation" or not, the political panorama among Italian moderates seemed to have changed.
"I believe PDL has always included a lot of different forces, but they have been so far suppressed by Berlusconi's leadership," the analyst explained.
"Now they have emerged and can form a real moderate centre-right grouping. The capability of Berlusconi is clearly at an end, otherwise these forces would not have had the strength to perform such a difficult split today."