Key Berlusconi ally pushes for early elections

August 22, 2010 12:00 am

, ROME, Aug 22 – The main coalition partner of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi insisted Sunday that early elections should be held regardless of the result of a parliamentary showdown in September.

"We have to go to the polls. It seems unlikely that we can carry on like this," Umberto Bossi, the head of the Northern League party was quoted as saying in the daily Il Messaggero.

After a group of lawmakers rebelled in July, Berlusconi called a confidence vote next month on a five-point programme for the three remaining years of his term to test his government\’s parliamentary majority.

But Bossi said the vote would not resolve the political uncertainty.

"I would go to elections without too many programmes," Bossi told the Sky TG 24 all-news channel.

Berlusconi has told rebel lawmakers the content of the programme, including tax and justice reforms, greater powers for regional governments, aid to the poorer south of Italy and new measures to curb crime and illegal immigration, is not negotiable.

But members of the dissident group, after initially saying they would vote for the programme, are now raising questions on the justice reform and on Berlusconi\’s approach.

"The \’take it or leave it\’ logic does not belong to politics…" said Italo Bocchino, the head of the rebel group in the lower house.

Italy has been gripped by political uncertainty since the end of July, when parliamentary speaker Gianfranco Fini left Berlusconi\’s People of Liberty (PDL) party, ending a 16-year alliance with the billionaire premier and depriving his coalition of a once-comfortable majority.

Berlusconi won his third stint as prime minister in elections in 2008, but as previously, his parliamentary majority is entirely dependent on his alliance with the anti-immigrant Northern League.

Recent polls show the party to be gaining support in its northern bastion and in traditionally left-leaning central regions.

The failure of the parliamentary confidence vote would bring down Berlusconi\’s government, and if a transitional government cannot be cobbled together, President Giorgio Napolitano will be forced to call early elections.



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