ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right rival Gianfranco Fini withdrew his loyalists from the government on Monday, deepening a political crisis that could lead to early elections.
Berlusconi’s government is expected to limp along until the 2011 budget is passed, probably by mid-December, before facing a do-or-die confidence vote in parliament.
Here are the most likely scenarios in the crisis.
A defeat in either the lower house or the Senate would force Berlusconi’s government to resign.
Under the constitution, President Giorgio Napolitano would then start consultations with all political forces to see whether there is enough parliamentary majority to support another government without early elections.
Berlusconi himself could even resign before any confidence motion and ask Napolitano to entrust him with forming a fresh government. Fini has rejected the idea of re-appointing Berlusconi as prime minister, however.
Napolitano could also appoint an authoritative figure to form an interim government that would run business until new elections are held. This happened in 1995 when the first Berlusconi government collapsed and was replaced by an administration headed by former Finance Minister Lamberto Dini.
Fini, the centrist UDC party and the main centre-left party, the PD, favour the formation of a new government of “national responsibility.” But it is unclear how long, if at all, such a diverse political alliance could hold together.
An interim executive would be tasked with changing the electoral law, which critics say benefits Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party by allotting power in the lower house to the largest party, irrespective of whether it has an absolute majority.
If Napolitano cannot find enough support for a new government he has to dissolve parliament and new elections must be held within 70 days.
Berlusconi, who has rejected Fini’s calls for his resignation, favours this option, hoping that voters would return him to power.
A majority of analysts say this remains the most likely scenario, with snap polls likely next spring.
They say one crucial factor to take into account is a ruling by Italy’s top court, due on December 14, on whether a law allowing Berlusconi not to attend his corruption and tax fraud trials while in office violates the constitution.
Fini’s loyalists and UDC politicians have said that if Berlusconi, who denies any wrongdoing and says he has been targeted by politically motivated magistrates, agreed to step down they would be open to negotiating a deal granting him immunity from prosecution.
Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Jon Boyle