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News Analysis: New Italian political reality makes unlikely allies out of Letta and Alfano

English.news.cn   2013-12-04 05:38:54            

By Eric J. Lyman

ROME, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Silvio Berlusconi's ouster from parliament last week is creating unlikely political bedfellows: center-left Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and former Berlusconi crony Angelino Alfano from the center-right.

The 77-year-old Berlusconi was stripped of his Senate seat last week, following the Supreme Court's decision to uphold a lower court conviction for tax fraud and false accounting. The sentence also includes a year of house arrest and a ban from politics likely to be confirmed later this month or in January.

Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon, is also fighting court cases or appeals alleging bribery, illegal wiretaps, abuse of power, and paying an under-age girl for sex.

While few believe Berlusconi will fade away as a result of the recent developments, it is clear he will not lack the influence he has had in the past.

In protest of his Senate ouster, Berlusconi ordered his allies to withdraw their support for the Letta government. But it was not enough to make the government collapse as it would have been in the summer: Alfano, once Berlusconi's hand-picked political successor, created his own splinter party that Alfano says will continue to support Letta.

Letta, meanwhile, faces his own challenge on the political left: Florence mayor Matteo Renzi is a rising political star who and the likely party secretary who appears to be consolidating support among young voters. That is sparking speculation he could withdraw support for the Letta government to make it collapse and force new elections.

"The longer the Letta government lasts, the stronger Letta will be compared to Renzi," said James Walston, a political scientist at the American University of Rome. "And Alfano is still relatively unknown, but as time passes that will change."

Gianfranco Gallo, a political risk analysis with investment bankers Hildebrandt and Ferrar, agreed: "It's not inconceivable that Letta and Alfano could face off against each other in some future election, but right now they need each other," Gallo said.

Berlusconi, Renzi, as well as populist Beppe Grillo -- who controls a large parliamentary bloc that refuses to align with any coalition -- all stand to benefit if the Letta government struggles or falls.

To avoid that, analysts say, Letta must focus on fueling Italy's economic recovery, which will help him maintain enough popular support to stay in power. That means the government is betting on the 2014 economic recovery promised by Minister of Economy Fabrizio Saccomanni last month.

"Italy's economic recovery is very fragile," said Riccardo Paterno, an economist and president of the Ernst & Young Business School. "But Letta's economic reforms could save him. The trouble is that to follow through on some of these reforms he will have to go against some of the interests of his own party.

"Letta is a prisoner of his own situation," Paterno concluded.

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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