ROME - For a foreigner who doesn’t understand the Byzantinism of Italian politics, it will seem paradoxical: as of yesterday, the majority that has kept Mario Monti’s government in place is suddenly hanging by a thread, even as the main economic packages were approved by the legislature.
And now, elections could be right around the corner, with none other than Silvio Berlusconi -- who had just two months ago declared his intention never to run again -- standing as the likely center-right candidate.
The fuse it appears was lit by just a few words from Minister for Economic Development Corrado Passera during an appearance on an early morning TV show. Asked to comment on a scenario of Silvio Berlusconi running again for Prime Minister, for the fifth time, the cabinet member in Monti's "technical" government, let slip a political judgment.
“Everything we do that makes the world think we’re going backwards isn’t good for Italy," he said. "We have to give the feeling that the country is going forward.”
This sentence triggers the interest of Berlusconi and his allies in the People's Freedom Party (PDL); and at 11 a.m., PDL Senate leader Maurizio Gasparri announced his abstention from voting for the confidence measure.
The confidence vote passes, but without support of the PDL, which means the government was suddenly without a working majority. Democratic party leader in the Senate, Anna Finocchiaro, called on Monti to confer with the President of the Republic.
The same situation repeats again a few hours later in the Lower House of Parliament. The majority is there, but only just technically. PDL leader Fabrizio Cicchitto, tried to move away from the theory of Passera being a “detonator”, except to call him “a bull.”
In both houses, it emerges that there are some PDL members splitting off, willing to vote Yes in the confidence measure: notably former Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. The government holds, yet the markets react as if it had fallen: the public bond spread rises 330 points over quota, twenty more than the day before. When the stock exchange closed, it was down 0.75% in contrast to gains in other European markets.
Democratic party leader Pierluigi Bersani and centrist leader Pierferdinand Casini try to reverse the momentum gathering against Monti, meeting the Prime Minister face-to-face and confirmed their “loyalty to the government” until the natural expiration of the term later in 2013.
Still, Monti was forced to admit the difficulties, “I have taken note of the positive vote on the economic reforms and now I await the findings of the President of the Republic.”
Napolitano reportedly said: “Don’t end it, I’m opposed to a frenzied end to the term.”
PDL leader Angelino Alfano has made it clear that the party will guarantee the majority only until the stability pact law is approved at Christmas: “We’re worried for the economic situation and so have given a clear signal.”
The PDL’s irritation with the government was already apparent a few days before, when in the Senate the vote on economic measures was sunk by those loyal to Berlusconi. Passera's comment simply helped to solidify a party at serious risk of schism.
The other fuse is the green light on the decree to declare the ineligibility of members of Parliament and ministers who have been convicted definitively, a topic that for weeks has divided both the government and political parties. Casini and leaders of the Democratic Party say that the return of Berlusconi, who has had a decades-long war with magistrates -- that his return is really about this.