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Berlusconi given pregnant pause for thought

December 13, 2010

By Guy Dinmore and Giulia Segreti in Rome, Published: December 13 2010

The survival of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government could come to rest on the health of three heavily pregnant opposition deputies and a handful of wavering lawmakers.

After days of intense lobbying by all sides, politicians and commentators agreed that the outcome of Tuesday’s vote of no-confidence in the 630-strong lower house could be agonisingly close even as the 74-year-old prime minister expressed himself “serene and confident”.

Three opposition MPs – Giulia Bongiorno and Giulia Cosenza of the breakaway centre-right Future and Liberty party – and Federica Mongherini of the centre-left Democrats – may not attend because they are close to giving birth or have pregnancy complications.

Ms Mongherini said last week she was considering a Caesarean birth to be sure of her presence. Blogging on Monday, she said her baby was due on Tuesday but that unless she went into labour she intended to vote.

“Leaving aside my vote for a second, does anyone really think that a government that is hanging on the date of birth of a little girl can be stable?” she wrote.

Three abstentions are certain – that of Gianfranco Fini, the ally-turned-rebel who as speaker of the house does not vote by tradition, and two German-speaking MPs from the autonomous region of Tyrol.

On paper, Mr Berlusconi cannot rely on a majority after 34 deputies joined Mr Fini last month on the opposition benches in their new breakaway Future and Liberty party.

But on the eve of the vote Mr Fini was struggling to maintain unity. Four of his deputies last week broke ranks to launch a reconciliation initiative. In addition Maria Grazia Siliquini indicated she would not toe the party line in protest against an uncompromising television interview by Mr Fini on Sunday in which he accused Mr Berlusconi of holding on to power only to avoid going to court to face two trials for corruption and fraud.

Several other opposition deputies have also stated they might not support the motion of no-confidence, including Domenico Scipoliti and Antonio Razzi of the Italy of Values (IDV) party, and Bruno Cesario and Massimo Calearo, both Democrats.

Their possible “betrayal” has unleashed accusations by their parties of vote-buying, which the Berlusconi camp has strongly denied. Italian newspapers have quoted Mr Razzi as saying in September that he had been offered bribes to support the government while denying that he had accepted.

Rome magistrates Giovanni Ferrara and Alberto Vaperna were due to meet on Monday to review the accusations. Antonio Di Pietro, IDV leader and a former anti-graft prosecutor, declared that he would present material to stop what he called “the shameless buying of parliamentary votes … to stop the political homicide that is damaging the dignity, credibility and freedom of the Italian parliament”.

Italian media have reported that members of parliament were offered sums of more than €300,000 in the form of future “consultancy” contracts in the names of friends or relatives.

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