Italy's Prime Minister says he wants to "look my traitors in the face," but it may not be enough to preserve his tenuous grip on the nation's politics. Silivo Berlusconi faces a no confidence vote today that could bring an end to his reign.
The drama will unfold with a budget vote on Tuesday (around 9:30 a.m. ET) that Berlusconi desperately needs to win to prove that he can still control his own party and deliver the austerity reforms that other European nations have been calling for. If he loses the budget vote, opposition leaders plan to call for a no-confidence vote on the Prime Minister. Another defeat on that motion would bring down his coalition government and likely lead to new elections. Some Italian lawmakers (including members of his own party) are already calling on him to avoid all that and simply step down now.
Rumors floated yesterday that he would in fact resign, but Berlusconi shot them down (on Facebook) and later announced that he would carry on by trying to negotiate with members of his party who are threatening to abandon him. It seems like the markets would prefer that he go as well, as Italy's stocks soared on the rumors, then died when it was clear he wasn't leaving just yet.
The 75-year-old Berlusconi, of course, has faced much more scandalous affairs in his carrer — corruption charges, bribery accusations, and is even on trial right now for allegedly hiring an underage prostitute — and found a way to survive them all, but it could be the economy that finally does him in. Italy's debt is growing out of control and growth has gone almost nowhere in the last decade. Even in the best case scenario he must ram through a harsh and unpopular austerity package that would cut pension and welfare programs and weaken unions. There could also be months of chaos as the government (with or without Silvio) tries to reorganize itself into a new governing coalition. All the while, the European Union tries not to collapse around them.
For now, though, it appears Berlusconi is determined to see this fight through and they'll take the government when they pry it from his very grabby hands.