‘Third pole’ to challenge Berlusconi
The meeting brought together old rivals and former allies from diverse political backgrounds, including Gianfranco Fini as head of his new Future and Liberty party, Pier Ferdinando Casini as leader of the Catholic UDC, Francesco Rutelli of the small Alliance for Italy, several deputies of the Sicilian Movement for Autonomy and a few other lawmakers.
Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying the “third pole” was “dead”. Altero Matteoli, infrastructure minister, echoed the views of commentators in casting doubt on their unity.
Should they succeed in forming a coherent alliance, which as yet has no formal name, then it could spell the end of a brief era in which the prime minister’s ruling People of Liberty party and the main centre-left Democrats had sought to establish a clear-cut bipolar system along the lines of the UK and US.
Aides said one of the meeting’s agenda was to present a show of unity in the face of Mr Berlusconi’s efforts to draw more wavering deputies into his government to shore up the three-vote majority he secured in defeating a no-confidence motion in his government in the lower house.
“A new pole is born and it seems solid,” said Rocco Buttiglione, UDC chairman. “Either we all stick together or they are going to hang us one by one,” he added, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the US.
Opinion polls have indicated that a “third pole”, which has been months in the making, could draw as much as 20 per cent of the vote should Mr Berlusconi be forced to resign as prime minister and call snap elections.
Mr Casini, who on Tuesday rejected an offer of an alliance by Mr Berlusconi, said the new group had no intention of precipitating early general elections but wanted to work together in parliament in the interests of the nation.
Mr Fini, who ended his long alliance with Mr Berlusconi last month and precipitated the latest government crisis, was still a neo-Fascist in 1993 when he ran for mayor of Rome against Mr Rutelli, then a Green. He has long since evolved as a leading moderate.