ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, his power sapped by a break with an ally, will seek a show of confidence from his splintered coalition in September and resign if he loses, a party leader said on Friday.
Fabrizio Cicchitto, head of centre-right parliamentarians in the lower house, said Berlusconi will give his coalition one more chance to close ranks before giving up.
“In September, Berlusconi will present a platform based on a few points. We hope that a majority can be found to support them and renew the confidence in the government,” he said in a statement.
“Otherwise, at that point, there can be no alternative to elections.”
Lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, who split with Berlusconi last week, allowed the prime minister to escape a full-blown showdown on Wednesday by letting a junior minister survive a confidence motion in parliament.
But Fini’s supporters showed their strength by abstaining in the vote, making clear that they had enough votes to bring the government down if they had chosen to oppose it.
Fini, a co-founder of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party (PDL), has set up a breakaway faction in parliament that could deprive Berlusconi of his majority, particularly if the rebels join ranks with small centrists opposition parties.
This is exactly what happened on Wednesday when a no-confidence motion against junior justice minister Giacomo Caliendo failed by 70 votes.
Fini’s backers abstained along with members of three smaller parties, totalling 75 votes.
Cicchitto did not specify in his statement what the points of the Berlusconi’s September platform would be.
However Italian media speculated they would be centered around reform of the justice system, taxes, devolution of power to regions and an economic programme for Italy’s poorer south.
When Fini formed his new faction, called Future and Freedom for Italy, he said it would “loyally support the government every time it acts within the framework of the electoral programme” but against it when it does not.
Cicchitto’s words appeared to be a warning to Fini that Berlusconi would hold him to that promise.
If Berlusconi calls a confidence vote and loses it, which commentators say is likely given the tension between the prime minister and the house speaker, he would have to resign.
If a government resigns and Italy’s president fails to find someone who can form another one, he would be forced to dissolve parliament and call early elections — usually held about two months later.
Berlusconi and his main coalition ally, the Northern League, say they would oppose the appointment of an interim government made up of so-called “technicians” such as bankers, businessmen and academics and push for snap elections in the autumn.
The political turmoil comes at a time when financial markets are watching to see whether the government will be strong enough to implement a 25-billion euro (£20.7 billion) austerity package approved in parliament last week to rein in the deficit.
Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti sounded a note of reassurance about the impact of the ruckus on Italy’s finances on Wednesday.
“The political crisis, if it happens, will not have an impact on Italy’s public accounts,” he told Reuters. He also ruled out the need for more budget measures in the autumn.
Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Roberto Landucci; Editing by Angus MacSwan