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No Confidence Vote on Italian Premier

By CJ Skwiersky
The Digest, Case Comments Editor

On December 14, 2010, the Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, will face a no confidence vote in parliament. The results of this vote will determine whether or not Berlusconi will be forced to resign from the position of Premier.

Berlusconi was elected in 2008 but his popularity and his power-base have been severely weakened as a result of political fallout with his former ally Gianfranco Fini, which has deteriorated into a bitter feud. His reputation has also been damaged due to a series of scandals which have been reported over the past weeks and months, including allegations of frequenting prostitutes (which resulted in a homophobic outburst by Berlusconi in which he said that it was “better to be passionate about a beautiful woman than a gay”) and allegations of his involvement with an underage Moroccan girl that included interference in her potential criminal case.

Berlusconi is also a defendant in two criminal trials, which have been placed on temporary hold due to a law in Italy that can suspend the proceedings for as long as 18 months “if the defendant has a legitimate impediment" stemming from their work as an elected official.” These pending trials include charges of corruption and of tax-fraud. Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing on his part. However, this law had been passed by Berlusconi’s conservative allies and is being challenged.

Berlusconi has been urged by his now rival numerous times to resign in the face of these allegations. His popularity has fallen such that even journalists employed by his family-owned newspapers have criticized him.

Berlusconi previously maintained majorities in both houses of the Italian parliament: the lower house and the Senate. However, due to the breakaway from Fini, Berlusconi maintains only a small majority in the Senate and has no assurance of a majority in the lower house. These majorities are key to the potential outcome on December 14th.

On December 13, 2010, Berlusconi will address the Italian parliament and plead his case. The next day, the lower house of parliament will vote on the no confidence motion. That same day, the Italian Senate will vote on the counter motion presented by Berlusconi’s remaining allies, a “motion in support of government.”

Should Berlusconi lose the vote of no-confidence in the lower house, he will have to resign.

Even if he wins the vote, he may not be safe. The same day as the no-confidence vote, the Constitutional Court will rule on whether the law suspending the criminal proceedings is constitutional. If not, he will find himself in court sooner rather than later, as Premier or merely as a citizen.

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald, “Italian Italy: no-confidence vote against gov't on Dec. 14,” 16 Nov. 2010.

The New York Times, “Italian Leader Plans to Call No Confidence Vote” 14 Nov. 2010.